11. Somewhere to Call Home
This simplified diagram of Maslow’s ubiquitous Hierarchy of Needs includes shelter and warmth in the very lowest layer, which represents the most basic essentials for physiological survival. In other versions, homeostasis, sexuality and excretion are added in the same line. Warmth is linked to energy intake, location, internal well-being and health state. Stress and trauma can trigger a freeze response as readily as the better known fight or flight mode. This can result in immobilisation and also in literal freezing: cold chills. Access to suitable shelter in particular enables the individual to adjust according to climate and personal disposition. Homeostasis is achieved with stability in the environment, an overall balance and sense of equilibrium regularly reached through a complex interplay of internal and external causes. The Fearless Philanthropy post , a summary of Maslow’s pyramid, is a useful reference, conveying how much more interactive at every stage all the levels of need really are. The comment on ambivalence about leaving sexuality at the bottom will be referred to again in later posts.
As for shelter, it is clearly a fundamental survival need that can directly affect quality of life. There’s a privileged type of self-chosen homelessness whereby people take off on adventures to explore and hope to work, cadge or befriend hospitable people as they go. Keeping in touch with supportive family back home is a safety-net most have, and it can turn out well. Though our ancestors were nomads and some groups retain a travelling lifestyle, the road can be gruelling, requiring particular shared behaviours for safety, companionship and other needs. In contrast are those less fortunate people who are forced out of accommodation because of intolerance or aggression coming from their own social circle, amongst other reasons. The stereotype cites them as the problem, to blame for their loss of lodging due to addictions, dysfunctional behaviour, severe mental illness, criminal tendencies and so on. Some chronic cases fit this description but a constant stream of people who simply accidentally find themselves in vulnerable situations, such as those due to domestic violence, bereavement, separation, job loss, raised rent, make up quite a proportion of the homeless numbers. In fact, virtually all homeless people have had a terrible time and will almost certainly need people to assist their recovery, initially at least, if they desire to establish a comfortable stable life.
Needless to say, it’s best in the first place to try to avoid becoming homeless. Tips on cutting other expenses, negotiating interim financial agreements with landlords, banks, relatives and other relevant parties, can be found in informative books on preventing foreclosure, and on good decisions to stay housed. Someone faced with impending eviction, though, really must ask for help. Think of who to go to in the vicinity: family, friends, whoever owns the house, if feasible; but if not, then, without hesitation, approach public services, plus housing and other related associations. That’s what they’re there for. Everyone is entitled to a roof over their heads; to reside in a safe place. There’s no shame in a fall, a knock from life; it happens to the very best of folk. Approach local authorities, health and social services, housing trusts, the police – they know what’s available – , religious or charitable bodies: just keep going till there’s a vacancy that is safe and clean to a basic level until matters can be sorted out and a fresh start made.
Fighting back involves learning new skills, so finding a base to refuel is essential because learning is very difficult if not impossible in completely unpredictable circumstances, with no money, worrying about the next meal, feeling endangered and afraid of everything all the time. Such is the lot of the homeless. While it might not be possible to engage with enthusiasm in new situations, people, and information, the only way out is through, trying one strategy after another until a satisfactory re-housing arrangement is made. Remember the proverb: a dumb priest never got a parish. Very soon it’ll be possible to get back in the race, active on the feet again, getting better at all tasks and replenishing capability with every passing day. Otherwise, look out for people at risk and give them a hand to keep them afloat where possible – there but for the grace of God…