Homelessness: More than the Lack of a Home
“It’s a commonly stated truth that “homelessness” is more than the lack of a home. This alludes to the reality that homeless individuals often face a wide range of challenges rooted in their personal experiences that prevent them from being housed sustainably. Histories of addiction, trauma, and mental health disorders are more common than not. Ultimately, all who are homeless carry with them a unique set of factors that led them to a position of being without housing. In consideration of this holistic idea of “homelessness,” the process of addressing these underlying challenges is just as important as developing a sustainable source of income and finding appropriate housing.
One person that I meet with every week has lived in a transitional apartment run by the shelter — a model that allows people to build their housing history while receiving a lot of support. Due to complications with his health, his mobility is limited. He was encouraged to move to another transitional apartment that was in a different town but benefitted from being on the first floor.
This was a very difficult move for this person. Beside physical issues, he also has managed bipolar disorder and depression for much of his adult life. He made it clear that he would miss Vergennes and the community that he found there. He lived right downtown and was a regular face at the coffee shop and restaurant around the corner from his apartment. Those supports were a big part of his sense of stability and of having a home. I have continued to meet with him weekly since his move. He has been receiving housing advocacy services from a different organization, and our relationship has largely been making sure he is comfortable in his space. Most of our time consists of chatting over coffee in his apartment. Though a coffee shop would not frequently be categorized as a social service, I’ve come to see this as fulfilling a crucial need that this person has.
My experience serving this population has made me aware of the ways in which we could design our society to meet the needs of the entire gamut of people in our society — and that, as a society, we often depend on the whims of convenience to dictate those designs for us. But one can observe how these structures fail to benefit those who have the fewest resources to pursue alternatives, and one can see how the coffee shop, like a doctor’s office or a school, may be a crucial part of someone’s path to robust prosperity. I credit my experience in AmeriCorps with developing this awareness.”