Josh Bolinger: Understanding Homelessness
One of the big problems I see in dealing with the problem of homelessness is a lack of understanding of the experience itself, and how it feels. There are certain symptoms of homelessness that make it especially difficult to break out of.
Breaking out of homelessness, getting back on the social ladder takes guts, determination, and belief. The problem is, being on the streets destroys your faith in yourself. For one thing, hunger makes it harder to think, to be optimistic, to plan and try to put together a strategy for getting your life back. It creates a specific type of depression that is so darkly despairing, it becomes hard to visualize solutions to the problem. You are constantly exhausted, drained of energy. The situation that you are in is so desperate, it is beyond being broken, it’s soul-crushing.
When the medical community talks about how antidepressants work inside the brain, they talk about “the ability to visualize new solutions to problems” as being one of the main effects they are trying to trigger. That’s what makes getting out of the homelessness pit so hard – you lose the ability to even visualize the possibility of escape, to see it as a realistic goal, and so planning for it becomes virtually impossible.
That’s why looking at homeless people and wondering why they don’t lift themselves up by their bootstraps kind of misses the point. Many of them have simply lost the belief that there are such things as bootstraps.