In my post those experiencing homelessness, I addressed the need to treat those experiencing homelessness as individuals. Individuals with sufficient cognitive ability, however, can decide either to accept or resist assistance. Mental health professionals and volunteers struggle with the fact everyday. As a result I often hear phrases like “we can’t help someone who doesn’t want help.” That’s true, and given the limited resources, time, and energy of those trying to help, this approach is completely understandable and expected. Especially from a public policy perspective, you have to be frugal with the above mentioned commodities. The line, however, between those who want help and those who don’t is not quite so clear. And when we are instead dealing with the unlimited collective resource of love, we have the luxury of considering all factors.
Trauma and homelessness are inseparable. Homelessness is often related to various traumatic events. Homelessness itself is also a form of chronic trauma, and life on the streets typically comes with additional vulnerabilities. This often results in a defensive response to assistance and compassion. To quote a 1991 American Phycologist journal article Homelessness as Psychological Trauma, “Homeless people can lose faith in their own ability to care for themselves and in the willingness of others to help them, and may develop an abiding sense of distrust of others.” From The Trauma and Mental Health Report, “Tom Regehr of CAST Canada considers trauma to be most often the root cause of homelessness, and that most cases of homelessness result from a series of losses, so severe and betraying, that these individuals cannot even tolerate the idea of hope.” This resistance is similar to that of sex trafficking victims and addicts, and this trauma is often compounded with loneliness due to a loss of personal relationships.
My time with those experiencing homelessness has been filled with this kind of resistance. A relatively low “success” rate can be discouraging, and as a busy husband and father my time and energy is limited. My love, however, and more importantly Christ’s love through me, is unlimited. This becomes something tangible and manageable when we work together, the more the merrier. Due to the time many have put into developing relationships with individuals, when they are finally receptive to help, they will have a community to lean on and support them. And yes, there are plenty of these kinds of success stories.
We have to be cognizant of, and enforce our own limitations and boundaries. We can’t, however, let resistance to relationship and/or help prohibit us from trying.