It is a sad fact that when one looks at grief, one does not see much about the homeless population in the literature or in research. Often, these people have such high levels of grief and trauma resulting from crisis situations like abuse, bad choices resulting in self-esteem issues, home loss, not being able to support onself, incarceration or other consequences. When you look at the homeless population with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it can show a sad state of affairs.
Even if the person manages to find a homeless shelter, often the time period for stay and policies around stays negate the ability to remain for any length of time and get assistance on issues that made this person susceptible to become homeless. Only their physiological needs are met and only for short periods of time. Even if a transitional home with a longer stay is found, regardless of the best intentions of those running the facilities, these people often do not get their safety needs met. They know that at any time they could be thrown out if they break the rules. They also know that the time of stay is limited. When leaving transitional facilities the homeless do not maintain the support structure that was built. They are often embarassed by the fact that they were homeless. This negates the ability to even think about belonging and needs being met as they hide that part of themselves. Thus there can even be grief about not being able to be open about oneself. While that is not always the case with people in transition, it is more often than not.
In my experience with the homeless, transitional homes, supportive services and counseling for urban persons in Virginia, I found the homeless had so many experiences that would cause grief but were not allowed or did not allow themselves time to grieve fully and heal. They rarely get out of the stages of grief, but transition back and forth from shock and disbelief to denial to anger to depression but hardly ever to acceptance and reorganization. There are success stories in the community, but many more join the ranks of the chronic homeless.
I have heard arguments about whether it is the ‘fault’ of the homeless person, or if it is due to no fault of their own that they became homeless. I have come to a conclusion that it is somewhere between. These people have experienced so many hard knocks that they have given up hope and just learned negative behaviors that lead to negative consequences. They have not had as many opportunities to heal and learn positive behaviors leading to positive consequences. They have a difficult road to travel to meet their physiological, safety, and belonging needs so that they can gain self-esteem and create a successful life.
The homeless are difficult to access and work with due to these very issues. Yet they need the assistance greatly, but often resent it while feeling that they do need help. Think about yourself. You are without a home, a job, a telephone number and skills. You are thrust into a situation where you have to rely on strangers who tell you what you can and can’t do. You are pushed into activities (counseling/education) that may be good for you but are required rather than self-initiated. Wouldn’t you feel a sense of resentment, anger and grief too? Most people want to have a sense of self and independence.
As a woman who has never been homeless but worked with the population, I cannot commend enough those who have experienced homelessness and made a success of their lives. Nor can I commend enough those who work full-time with this population. Both have a difficult path in order to join together so that healing and transitioning can take place. The homeless themselves can do the hard work of acceptance and reorganization that leads to a self-sufficient and productive life. It is my hope that this healing can be facilitated by more attention to the homeless, their rallying for help and by their working to promote understanding.