Homelessness is a growing problem and it is around us every day. Homeless people can come from all walks of life. Some have good families that worry about them. Others may not. We find mentally ill people walking the streets, runaways, and children. We find homeless people living in the streets, in bathrooms, on downtown benches, in tents close to busy traffic lights, living with friends, and in temporary shelters.
Most homeless people are men and a large number of them are under the age of 25 (CDC, 2020). Homeless people do not have access to medical care and experience higher rates of adverse physical and mental health conditions, suicides, substance abuse, and respiratory diseases. One in two homeless people are without shelter making them susceptible to extreme weather conditions.
My interview happened with a couple that was caught living in the woods and breaking into houses and campers to meet their basic needs such as to gather food and even take a shower. One homeowner decided that instead of pressing charges or running the couple off that he would rent his camper out to the couple. Other neighbors gathered food to carry to the couple.
The couple was grateful for the homeowner’s kindness and the neighbors sharing food with them. They agreed to talk to me. Both individuals are about thirty years old and told me that their only income comes from social security disability. The woman told me that she is pregnant. She told one of the neighbors that she is transgender and that her family will not have anything to do with her. The disabled homeless man says that he is bipolar and that his family turned him away. The man has an old truck that he uses to get back and forth to do odds and end jobs or gig work. A retired lady in the neighborhood where they were caught has been taking the transgender homeless woman to appointments and says that the couple has asked for gas money on several occasions.
Both individuals feel that they are not accepted by the majority of the population. The man says that he has problems finding and keeping jobs and thinks that he is discriminated against because of his mental diagnosis. The woman feels that she is discriminated against because she is transgender. They both say that they have applied for housing but that housing opportunities are hard to get and that there is a long waiting list. I asked them if there was any issue with drug or alcohol use that could interfere with passing a drug test for employment. The man told me that he prescribed medication because he is bipolar and that he is taking his medication. The same neighbor that takes the woman to appointments says that the homeless woman has asked her for gas money and she thinks the money she asked for is for cigarettes.
The couple seems to be adjusting to homelessness quite well because of the homeowner allowing them to rent the camper that they broke into and because of the kindness of his neighbors helping them to meet their basic needs for food and such. My mind was having a hard time processing how a transgender person becomes pregnant so I googled it and found that intersex or hermaphrodites can sometimes become pregnant but that it is unlikely that the mother will carry the child to term (Planned Parenthood, 2021). Further discussion with the homeless woman revealed that she was born with both male and female organs and that she identifies as being a woman.
I left the interview with a feeling of not knowing what to think or believe. I expected to find mental illness and a sad story when I went into the interview. I did not expect to find out so many details about their sex life and the homeless woman’s gender identity issues. The interview left me feeling many emotions. I hope the couple finds peace and prosperity, but at the same time I do not feel like they were being honest with me and that there is much more going on with them than what they let me or anyone else know. I wonder how long they will live in the man’s camper and if they will continue to pay rent. I plan to follow up with the homeowner in a couple of months to find out how the situation plays out.
I think my emotional response stems from my lack of experience with the homeless population as well as my lack of experience with transgender and intersex gender individuals. I think I felt like going into the interview that I would find that someone had lost their job and became homeless. What I found instead is that they have been homeless for a while and they both experienced problems their entire lives that led to them being homeless. Eventually, the couple moved out of the man’s camper and moved into a hotel in another city. After that everyone lost contact with them.
How can we fix it?
Homeless people come from various backgrounds. There are several factors that can lead to homelessness. A few reasons people become homeless can include a loss of income, sickness or disease, substance abuse, domestic violence, aging out of foster care, or being released from prison.
There are many other Bible verses that tell us to be kind to poor people. We are commanded to love God and to love one another. Luke 12:33, Jesus tells us to give to the needy and store our treasure in the heavens with moneybags that do not grow old (KJV).
Homelessness must be addressed through concepts of culture, social structure, socialization, social interaction, organization, and deviation. (Rakhimbekov, et. al., 2018). Socially, people may be afraid of the homeless population. There are many people that believe that there is something severely psychologically wrong with homeless people. Some cities even criminalize homelessness (CDC, 2020). Homeless people will experience difficulties finding a job or keeping a job because they do not know where their next meal is coming from and they may not know where they will sleep. Many do not have clean clothes and cannot take a shower to prepare for employment. Others may have mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from maintaining stable housing.
Many people and businesses want to close non-profits that feed the homeless and get them off the streets and out of sight. Homeless people are seen as outsiders by many, and they can think of themselves that way too.
Community leaders can help prevent and end homelessness. It is a good idea for counselors to provide a handout for vulnerable people with information to services they may need. Some people may not tell us that they need services, or they may not be ready to accept help, but they can take the handout with them for use when they do become ready. There are several nonprofit outreaches that can be strategically placed as a resource guide for the homeless population and others that may become homeless.
True Colors United is an outreach program that implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people (True Colors United, 2021).
The LoveWell in Shreveport, Louisiana provides a day shelter with necessities such as food, clothing, showers, washing machines, and life skill classes (LoveWell, 2021).
Just about every area of the United States has a 211-community service organization (211.org). 211s partner with hundreds of organizations, businesses, and government agencies to provide various services and as of 2019, 211 had 5 million connections to help to reduce and prevent housing insecurity and homelessness, including nearly 900,000 referrals to homeless shelters and diversion services and more than 1 million connections to housing expense assistance services, 2 million connections to healthcare information and resources including prescription payment assistance, substance use treatment programs and mental health services, 1.5 million connections to help to reduce hunger and food insecurity, including food pantries, meal delivery services, and summer school lunch programs, 1.3 million connections to financial assistance, coaching, and help obtaining essential items like clothing and diapers (211.org).
211 also helps people in the middle of a crisis. Specialist provided support for hundreds of thousands of people experiencing suicidal ideation or other mental health crisis, and 211 assisted family members and friends that were worried about someone who needed assistance. They also help with issues related to sexual assault, domestic violence, or human trafficking, and made connections to disaster services like shelters, emergency food, evacuation assistance, and clean-up resources (211.org).
Visiting local shelters and interacting with counselors and homeless people helped me to learn about the homeless culture and reflect on my own beliefs about how we should live our lives as witnesses of Christ’s love. The research and visits that I made helped me develop a resource guide that I can use and the skills that I need to interact with diverse vulnerable populations. Homeless people have physical, emotional, and cognitive needs that counselors can help them with.
We have to meet them where they are at in a realistic way, assess their needs, and build relationships with them so that they trust us to open up to us and tell us what their needs and goals are. Theoretical models that I found to help address homelessness included the trauma model (Goodman et al., 1991), the risk amplification model (Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999), and the ecological model (Toro et al., 1991).
Homelessness has to be addressed by meeting people where they are at. Understanding concepts of culture, social structure, socialization, social interaction, organization, and deviation surrounding homelessness to meet people where they are, identify their strengths, and identify physical and psychological needs.
Related Articles: Homeless People, Runaways, Mental Health Disparities, and Homelessness
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211. org, (2021), 211 Community Service Organizations, Retrieved From, https://www.211.org/
CDC, (2020), Homelessness as a Public Health Law Issue, Center for Disease Control, Retrieved From, https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/resources/resources-homelessness.html
Goodman, L., Saxe, L., & Harvey, M. (1991). Homelessness as psychological trauma: Broadening perspectives. American Psychologist, 46, 1219-1225.
KJV, King James Version of the Holy Bible.
Love Well, (2021), The Hub Ministries, Shreveport, Louisiana, Retrieved From, http://thehubministry.org/
Planned Parenthood, (2021), What is intersex, Retrieved From, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/gender-identity/sex-gender-identity/whats-intersex
True Colors United, (2021), True Colors United implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people, Retrieved From, https://truecolorsunited.org/
Rakhimbekov KE, Farabi KazNU, Al-Farabi KazNU, and Abdikerova G.O., D.S.S, (2018), Theoretical Frameworks of Homelessness Research, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Retrieved From, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329025618_Theoretical_frameworks_of_homelessness_research
Toro, P. A., Trickett, E., Wall, D. D., & Salem, D.A. (1991), Homelessness in the United States: An ecological perspective. American Psychologist, 46, 1208–1218.
Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Yoder, K. A. (1999). A risk amplification model of victimization and depressive symptoms among runaway and homeless adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 27, 273–296