A lonely house stands on a quiet street corner; dilapidated and dejected, holding on to none of its former beauty. It stands completely abandoned; left alone to its own destruction; much like those who have chosen to make their homes within its walls; finding some small sense of security inside the crumbling filthy structure.
“Just like the dwelling they inhabit, the people inside have been completely abandoned; left broken and dejected.”
First by their world and then by themselves as their source of comfort becomes their all-consuming commander, and all they are is torn away by this relentless new master. Their will is no longer their own, and their bodies become beaten and battered under the heavy yolk of their heartless boss.
People look at them with disgust in their eyes. They call them, “Junkies, crack heads, worthless, losers.” It doesn’t matter what they say, no one could hate them any more than they already hate themselves. These uncaring people with their cruel words don’t understand that those they beat down were once just like them; they refuse to look underneath. They can’t comprehend that some are further trapped by elements outside their addiction.
For some, it might be a sexual predator who has gotten them hooked to fund his own habit. Still, others are imprisoned by their own minds; trapped on an emotional roller coaster that lifts them up and drops them down way faster than they can possibly keep up with. Others live in a world of delusions that are so vivid, with voices that are so real that they can’t escape them, and therefore they are compelled to follow them even into their own demise. All the while, others are crippled by such intense fear that every corner of their world becomes a corner of uncertainty. They find their solace in whatever relief comes through the door, and soon they can’t imagine getting through the day without their new BFF.
“Between Valentine’s Day and mid-April 2018, 5 of us died; 1 from complications due to alcoholism; 1 from an overdose; 1 from a heart attack; and 2 by suicide.”
I know situations like this can be hard to understand for the average person. But I do understand because I have been there, done that. We are equals! These are the hidden homeless; these are my people, and far too many of them die in their despair; broken and defeated.
I can just imagine how heart-breaking these stats are for you to read. Now I ask you to imagine how devastated we feel because these aren’t stats for us; they’re real people, who lived lives and touched lives; these are our friends, and they were taken far too soon.
I can remember making the trek each morning across the bridge to check on that abandoned house and my friends who had come to call it home. I remember worrying that I would find it burnt to the ground. I remember the relief that flooded me when I saw that it had not, and then my breath catching as I climbed the rickety staircase, hoping beyond hope that everyone inside would be alive and well.
Fortunately, I didn’t lose any that summer. However, I did lose contact with a few of them when they boarded the house up; abandoning them once again to find whatever safe haven they could find in an increasingly chaotic world. And all that’s left for me to do is wish that they find peace and healing.
” One of the boys said he was thinking of ending it before he met me because he was convinced no one cared.”
I remember someone asking me why I wasted my time on those people. I said, “first of all it’s not been a waste.” One of the boys said he was thinking of ending it before he met me because he was convinced no one cared, and then when I came along he had someone who cared and that was a game changer for him. And as long as we can keep them alive there is still hope, even if they can’t see it yet.
This is the beauty of peer support. We can connect with our people at a deeper level, using the healing power of empathy. We can find the broken and defeated that no one else can find because we are one of them, and they trust us enough to invite us in.
We can connect with those who have lost all faith in both themselves and in the system set up to serve them. We can be there in the wee hours when everyone else has gone home and the pain of living becomes too much.
These are the reasons why I believe that effective housing first systems should value paid Peer Support Workers as part of their teams. It’s because they understand nothing can be built for us without including us every step of the way.