The truth about homelessness

As someone who has experienced some degree of homelessness, this is a topic close to my heart … particularly because I know there are way worse cases than my own, and if my own has hurt and damaged me as much as it has, then I can’t imagine how painful it is for those who do it even tougher.

In the course of my life, I’ve probably lived in about 80 places (?), which includes:

  • 2 garages
  • a hallway
  • under a flight of stairs
  • many couches
  • backpackers
  • caravan
  • tent
  • room under a house (low ceilings and I’m 6’4″)
  • … and then various family homes, friends houses, and rental accommodation.

Had this instability been by choice and with more resources, it could have been fun more often … some of it wasn’t too bad, but other parts were extremely depressing, uncomfortable & frustrating.

I don’t think people really think about how the meaning of words themselves plays a role in properly describing and thus rationally relating to reality. So with that in mind, let’s have a look at the reality of homelessness.

First of all, what exactly is a “home”?

To some home is where the heart is, to others a home is where you hang your hat … so we see by this and further examples, that a home is defined by a subjective viewpoint.

So is there a common ground (?) … a most generic meaning of the word? Yes.

Home: a place of certainly accessible shelter, in which your “home needs” are met.

Have a think about that:

  • Access must be certain, if you claim it to be your home but cannot rely on access, your claim is flawed, it may be shelter, but no home;
  • It must provide shelter, as you are an organism that must be able to rest at night in any weather;
  • If your subjective “home needs” are not met (whatever they are), it is shelter, maybe even a house, but not a true home.

Some require comfort, a sense of belonging, privacy, and so on … while others merely need to hang their hat.

Is any one set of needs more universally valid than others? Generally no, whatever you need is what you need, but the more absolutely universal (global) requirements are those relevant to your biological needs, the more relatively universal (cultural, regional, local etc.) requirements will depend on who you are and where you live, what time period you live in etc.; then of course as we drill down, we eventually get to those purely personal requirements unique to you and your life circumstances.

So if a person decides to go live in a forest as a wild person, so long as the forest provides their shelter & home needs, it’s perfectly valid to call the forest “home”.

But … if a person is in a motorised wheel chair and they only have access to a top floor shelter in a building with no lift, no ramps, only stairs, and doorways too narrow for any wheelchair that suits their purpose – plus no assistance … is that a home? No, it’s a prison.

In summary:

  • Shelter: anything that shelters

  • House/unit/apartment: specific structures

  • Home: sheltering structure (not necessarily built) or location, with certain access and provision of home needs

What then is “homelessness”(?)

Most people probably think about homelessness in only the extreme cases, ie – if you’re not actually living in the street, they don’t consider you to be homeless … and thus, they totally underestimate the prevalence of homelessness, and completely fail to grasp its impact on individuals and society. It’s like until you’re actually suffering to an extreme which they’d appear stupid to deny, they’ll deny you have any problem at all.

So I want to again look at how we’re defining this word homelessness, starting with our base generic definition of home, and going from the generic to context specific versions of homelessness.

Generic: without Home.

Semi: where rental/share accommodation (and other similar circumstances) do not provide long term stability, privacy or nurturing environment … ie – your house is not a home, because it’s someone else’s house, and you just call it home for as long as you have access, but the facilities, structure &/or circumstances of rental arrangement are not fully supporting your home needs.

Moderate: where serious instability, frequent changes of premises, and other factors cause further problems.

Severe: where such instability causes serious life dysfunction.

Extreme: where no shelter is available and few if any home needs are met.

Conclusion:

The next time you meet someone who has never owned their own home, they’ve always rented and never had a job that paid enough money to break the rental cycle, where they work very hard for very little money (if they’re lucky enough to have a job at all), and pay most of it every single week just to have shelter, thus never having enough left after other expenses to save anything … understand that to at least some degree, you just met a homeless person.

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