It is said that the homeless are just like “us”, by which is meant “normal, middle class people”. That is only partly true. The homeless start out just like us, but they are re-trained to live lives of perpetual chronic stress. While the stress level of the homeless should be obvious to everyone, it isn’t necessarily seriously considered.
A person finds themselves homeless, a place they never thought they would be in. Perhaps, up to this point, they have even looked down on homeless people, seeing them as those who failed. Now they are there themselves, and they do not need anyone to tell them that they need to immediately get off the streets. So they call their family, call their friends, they contact the government, they go to shelters—and they find that there isn’t any help for them. Now they are the ones who have failed, they are failures in the society they grew up in. For some, this feeling of social inadequacy is overcome, but for many it continues for the rest of the time they are on the street.
Sleep is almost impossible, especially at first. Sleeping outside is strange, even if it is warm, but often it is not warm. The wind on one’s face, the stirring of anything—person, animal, branch blown by the wind—keeps you awake, or wakes you many times in the night. Later on, sleep is also difficult, perhaps because one’s camp isn’t adequate for the rain, or because of fear of the many other people you share a single room with in the shelter.
Once a person is homeless for a while, they realize just how vulnerable they are. They hear stories about people who are attacked in the middle of the night, or about police disturbing you or telling you to move early in the morning, often with their dogs and Taser guns. The fact that you can be stopped and often are by the police just for “looking” homeless, or ticketed if you are found in a camp is enough to make you nervous. The strange looks people give you, the complaints of shoppers if you stop in front of a store to rest, managers or church workers who yell at you for just trying to survive.
And the walking! Some cities have all the services in one location, which means you have to deal with all the crazy people in one place. But in most cities, many churches or agencies offer different services in different places. This means miles of walking just to get from one meal to another. Clothes are in one place, food in another, shelter in another. ...