An ordinary person behaves like a dog, which upon entering the hall of mirrors, barks at all the other dogs. The Sage, entering the hall of mirrors, sees only herself —Unknown
I work with the homeless. Although I hate clichés, I am going to start out by saying “all our struggles are the same.” Now, most people don’t know what it is like to sleep on the street or beg for money. But part of being human is to carry pain. Look around you to understand pain, and you’ll see we all share a common struggle. The margin between “me” and “homeless guy on the street” is a bit less wide.
The jargon in my field calls my clients “high risk” or “vulnerable.” A lot of them live on the street. Some are housed, usually in shelters or transitional living programs and struggle with basic necessities. Some of them use illegal substances. A large number have a mental illness. All of them have been consumed by poverty at some point in their lives.
Poverty means much more than being broke. Poverty is multifaceted and soul killing. It is handed down from generation to generation. It weighs the impoverished down like heavy stones. From day one, the clients I work with have been fated to endure some of the most malicious aspects of humanity, sometimes at the hand of their own parents.
Understanding vulnerable and underprivileged populations is difficult. Many will look at my clients and wonder, “Why can’t he just stop using drugs? Whatever happened to ‘Just Say No!’” or “Why does she keep going back to her pimp? Can’t she just get a job?” Before you can understand why someone would seemingly choose to inject a dangerous substance into their arm, one needs to understand the pain that made that idea appealing in the first place. Logically, needles are not fun and often dangerous. Can anyone logically conceive of someone waking up and saying “Hey, you know what would be fun: taking heroin intravenously.” When you try to understand pain, you begin to see deeper and deeper layers of trauma nesting inside a person and driving them towards certain decisions. [Read more…]