The word “deserve” comes up a lot in conversations with people who have never experienced homelessness before.
We get questions like, “Why should people receive access to housing if they haven’t worked to deserve it?” And often hear flippant statements like, “If someone is living on the streets, they deserve to be there.”
There are many glaring problems with assumptions around someone’s “deserved” or “earned” rights. The first of which is: each human being who is experiencing homelessness is still a whole person deserving of dignity, respect, and fair treatment.
Homelessness can happen to anyone.
In our interactions with people who live right here in Kansas City, we have met doctors, lawyers, and caseworkers who have all found themselves in situations without a roof over their heads.
In fact, 100% of people experiencing homelessness are in their situation because they have also experienced trauma. That’s right. An event in their life was traumatic enough that it tossed them out on the street where people now look at them and believe they deserve to be there.
Trauma does not discriminate.
Sometimes, trauma happens in the form of a painful, expensive, and debilitating health issue. When a person struggles to access proper health care, their physical ability to find and retain work drops drastically. The longer they are out of work, the longer their health is neglected, and the sicker they become. It’s a vicious cycle.
Or, trauma can happen in the form of great loss. A person may lose their spouse, child, or parent and find themselves in the depths of despair without resources for coping. Untreated, this despair can turn into depression that keeps a person from returning to the things they would typically do to take care of themselves. People who never imagined they would turn to substances may find themselves relying on new ways to numb pain. Again, a downward spiral begins that anyone is susceptible to under the right circumstances.
Domestic abuse is a raging and prevalent trauma that frequently leads to homelessness. A person (usually a woman) may find themselves reliant upon a partner they thought they could trust. Over time, that partner may remove access to friends, finances, and independence. They may use physical force or violence or intimidation to keep that person under their control. Before long, a woman who longs to stand on her own two feet is made to believe she’ll never survive outside her abusive relationship. In fact, leaving that partner takes an immense amount of courage because her likelihood of being the victim of homicide skyrockets the moment she tries to flee the relationship. If the victim does not have a safe place to turn, they face homelessness.
Often, trauma strikes at such a young age, a person never knows life without it. Being evicted from your home, attending high school while living in a shelter, not having access to healthy food or proper education — these are traumas young people face, often. Finding a path away from homelessness with all odds against you is extremely difficult and the chances this child will continue to fight the housing battle into adulthood are high.
Saying a person deserves to live without a roof over their head is the same as saying they deserved the trauma that uprooted their life.
You would never tell someone they deserved a chronic illness, a death in their family, abuse from a partner, or to grow up in a shelter.
So, when you see someone who is facing houselessness, take a moment to consider the unthinkable conditions that may have led them there.