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The long reach of loss and grief... into homelessness.

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Just by virtue of being alive, all of us will, and do, experience loss and grief.

The death of anyone held close to our hearts is a clear trigger for grief, but also the loss of employment, stability, friendships, housing, security, identity, health and wellbeing, a relationship...

How any one of us moves through grief and loss at any given moment is influenced by a range of other factors including available resources and supports, and cultural and social frameworks. But there can be other compounding events which can make it insurmountable for some.

Health Direct states that 'Grief is the natural emotional response to the loss of someone close, such as a family member or friend. Grief can also occur after a serious illness, a divorce or other significant losses.

Grief is a process or journey that affects everyone differently. It can be exhausting and emotionally draining, making it hard to do simple things or even leave the house. Some people cope by becoming more active.

Grief has no set pattern. It is expressed differently across different cultures. Some people like to be expressive and public with their emotions, while others like to keep grief private.

Most people find the grief lessens with time. They may always carry sadness and miss the person who has died, but are able to find meaning and experience pleasure again. Some people even find new wisdom and strength after experiences of loss.'

The common thread...

...without doubt, grief and loss have been the most frequent underlying themes in the stories shared with me by rough sleepers and people experiencing homelessness - after a time, when we have settled into knowing each other in a way that might be fleeting but still tangible. I remain in awe of the resilience and shear tenacity of so many of the folk who have graciously unfolded and laid bare their histories - it seems both incredibly unfair and unfathomable that, for some, life can be relentlessly difficult and saddening.

I have written before that it is easier for us to judge a person experiencing homelessness as a person suffering the consequences of their own actions, as this helps us believe that we are not likely to find ourselves in a similar place / space ... here.

People who experience homelessness are not distinct and separate from the rest of the population. In fact, the line between being housed and unhoused is quite fluid.
Indeed. The homeless person you see on your commute to work or asking for some help outside of Starbucks often seems worlds away. That could never be me, our inner dialogue may assure us. But many of those very homeless people once had the very same thought.
An often-unrecognized factor blurring that line between housed and unhoused is loss.
The fluid line between housed and homeless can disappear after one profound loss. And that is a tough pill to swallow, as loss is admittedly and unfortunately an inevitable part of life. For most of us, loss is followed by a grieving period, and hopefully some closure and the ability to move on. But for an increasing number of people, especially those that experience significant loss later in life and are unequipped to deal with it successfully, that loss can be the first in a series of falling dominoes.
There is value in recognizing the link between loss and homelessness. If we recognize that any one of us may be one loss away from despair, perhaps we can be more sympathetic to others’ suffering.

While grief is not only a cause of homelessness, it can also be brought on by the very experience of being homeless, which can in turn lead to a range of behaviors, illnesses and coping strategies.

Instead of observing these first - and diminishing the person in front of you to the sum of these parts - remember...


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