Wednesday, February 4, 2009

why they stay

I tried to blog last week about how hard it is for people to leave the shelter... it didn't come across quite the way I wanted it to though.  I really shouldn't blog when I'm so tired my eyes keep closing.  So, my thoughts on why people don't leave the shelter...I'll get to empowerment later, or another day.  

1. The shelter is "safe".  
Interestingly enough, the opposite of this is why some people won't come into the shelter - they're scared and find them dangerous.  The shelter is safe because there are always people there, there are staff to take care of things and your friends are literally right beside you.  Living in a rooming house or an apartment on the other hand, who knows what's going on.  If you're lucky, there is one security guard for a building with 18 floors... most have no one.  

2. The shelter provides structure.
Again, something people don't like about shelters.  At the shelter there's a schedule and you have to follow it, you have no choice.  For people who grew up in places like residential schools and group homes, they may have always had a structured life.  Living on their own brings a lack of structure which can be overwhelming.  

3. The shelter provides. 
Most shelters provide food and clothing - at least in limited quanities.  They also provide staff who listen and pay attention (for the most part).  

4. The shelter is tolerant (at least our shelter)
This varies from place to place as every shelter has different rules.  Some shelters have little tolerance for anything, but ours tolerates pretty much anything.  While we don't allow drinking and sniffing in the building, the punishment is just a 24 hour suspension and you're allowed to come in intoxicated as long as you're quiet.  We'll put up with your unwashed body, your long hair, your talking to yourself, your parania, your lack of emotion, your mania, whatever it is, we'll deal with it.  

5.  Finding a place is hard
For me, finding an apartment is a chore, but realistically it's not that hard.  For starters, I can read, which means i can read the for rent adds.  I have ready access to a phone and voicemail so I can leave messages about viewings and have someone call me back.  I have a semi flexible budget and can afford a little leeway with my rent.  I have money in the bank for a damage deposit.  I have good references, and my parents still cosign for me if necessary.  For many people moving into lower income buildings they are required to provide first and last months rent as well as a damage deposit.  This can seem unreachable for someone on a fixed income living on the street.  Further many of the street people aren't recieving any social assistance at all and must first overcome that hurdle.  

6. Addiction
Many people on the street have serious addictions.  It's hard to give your money to rent when you know you could buy (insert your substance of choice here) with it.  Whatever we label this, it's a hard truth of a large percentage of the population in the shelter.  Further, many people get evicted time and time again for consequences of substance use making finding a place harder and harder. 

7. Mental Illness
People living on the streets have a higher then average rate of mental illness.  For those of you who've been depressed, you know how hard it is to do anything, anything at all.  Getting off your mat, going out, and looking for a place to live can seem totally unmanageable when faced with overwhelming depression or anxiety.  Then of course we have uncontroled psychotic disorders; living in another reality can mean housing doesn't figure into anything for you.  Overmedication is another problem and someone recieving large amount of Haldol (because yes, people still do take Haldol) may have trouble moving at all, let alone moving in somewhere.  

8. Family Atmosphere
Some of the people I work with have never been alone.  They've had large families, been in foster care, lived in group homes or residential schools, spent time insitutionalized and in hospitals and have never, ever, been completely alone.  It can be incredibly disconcerting to suddenly be all on your own when you've spent your entire life with other people.  However, moving in with friends can backfire too as if you've never learned to "work and play well with others" without the staff to act as referees you may find yourself in over your head. 

9. Lack of life skills
I've definitely posted about this before.  Imagine if no one ever taught you to clean a toilet, boil water, read directions, make your bed, do laundry etc... What if no one ever taught you how to mop the floor, that things need dusting, that food goes back when left on the counter.  How do you learn how to do that stuff?  And then of course there's the money thing.  When living on a fixed income budgeting and being thrifty tend to be important.  Spending all your money on the first of the month may seem like a good idea at the time, but how do you get through the rest of the month.  I definitely learned skills like this from my parents (much as I don't like to admit it) and can't imagine not having thing. 

10. Lack of decent affordable housing
Then there's this one, which becomes more political.  There is no good housing for the amount social assistance gives for rent.  Actually, there is NO housing for this, the most you can hope to get is a room in a falling down rooming house with a common bathroom, or perhaps a room in a hotel that literally holds just a bed.  Then of course there's the bed bugs, the mice etc... Many of these places are extremely dangerous besides just being completely disgusting.  I'm not sure i could walk down the hall to the bathroom in the middle of the night... There are some options in terms of government housing, but the waiting lists are 2+ years long and there are still bedbugs, and mice, and danger.  The only difference is the lone security guard sitting on a chair in the entry.  For all the shelter is gross, there are no bed bugs and it's disinfected every single day.  

and there you have it.  10 reasons that people stay in shelters, or at least in the shelter I work at.  


Anonymous said...

All valid points!

I just stumbled across your blog. I work in a homeless hostel in Scotland.

It can be so disheartening to see people who are just stuck in the homeless scene. The social aspect of staying in a hostel, while it can be a positive thing, is something that just doesn't prepare folk for staying in a flat on their own, and it tends to be the social / community (or lack thereof) thing that sees tenancies fail time and time again.

Aye. Keep writing!

Still Dreaming said...

It's so true. I'm glad you stumbled across this. It's amazing work we do, but wow, it can be hard!