Being community and family

Emotional homelessness – Homelessness & Community Part II

Emotional homelessness – Homelessness & Community Part II

Being community and family

We learnt in our previous post how tackling housing injustice and homelessness is about more than dealing with physical symptoms. It is as much about emotional homelessness. It is about addressing some of the emotional root causes that underlie it. Homelessness is as much about community as it is about having a roof over your head. This is because humans are relational beings. We need relationships if we are going to thrive.

Relational breakdown

Most homelessness starts with either relational breakdown or relational poverty whether directly or indirectly. We have touched on this in previous blog posting within the context of our housing charity. Sometimes the breakdown of a relationship results in an individual no longer being welcome to stay where they had been residing. For some time, this has cited by people presenting as homeless as the single biggest cause for the loss of their home. Though in recent times the loss of an assured short-hold tenancy is becoming much more prevalent.

The issue is not just the breakdown of the relationship. It is also a lack or loss of other significant relationships that form a network of support. We don’t often think about how when a couple separates, often friends and family pick a side. Consequently, you can lose your entire network of friends and family simply through relationship breakdown. You can find yourself alienated from your community. This can be as traumatic as no longer having a place to stay. The cumulative effect of finding yourself struggling with both physical and emotional homelessness can be catastrophic. This sense of rejection may also be felt when family are no longer able to accommodate you.

Similar issues may present in respect of other traumatic events leading to homelessness. Poverty of relationships is rife within the context of homelessness. It is where people lack the necessary positive and supportive relationships necessary to thrive. At a significant point of crisis, they find themselves lonely, isolated and at risk of losing their home.

The value of a network of support

The majority of us live in community and have a network of support. This means that at a point of crisis there is someone to lend a helping hand. When crisis hits we turn to friends, family, our community, our church and other networks of support. Someone will be there to make sure that things don’t get out of hand. Or will they?

I may previously have thought that this was predominantly about physical assistance. The network of support is there to provide finance, a place to stay or some other practical measure. It would help stop the downward spiral that could lead to homelessness. But, it may be that in those moments of crisis a spotlight is shone on a person’s relational network, highlighting the fact that they don’t have one. 

Emotional homelessness is a lack or loss of community providing a sense of belonging and acceptance. In many cases this may precede physical homelessness but may only come to light when the point of crisis hits. A person may find themselves at risk of losing their home only to realise that their community is not what they thought it was.

The need for community, acceptance and belonging may be as important to people as their physical needs. If this is true, then the impact of realising that your network of support is not what you thought it was, could be as devastating as the actual physical loss of your home.

Such considerations could and should impact upon how we approach tackling homelessness particularly within the context of a “charitable” approach.

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