It’s easy to believe, especially with the tough economic climate Alberta is embroiled in right now. But the truth is, for most people, nothing could be further from the truth.
Think about it for a moment. If you lost your job, developed a major health issue, or perhaps got evicted from your home, what would happen?
Most of us would take a short look around and notice how much support we have from friends and family. We would be able to lean on them until the clouds break and we can get back on our feet.
But the reality for most homeless men and women is that they do not enjoy this luxury.
In fact, the greatest unmet need most clients at the Calgary Drop-In Centre face – and one of the biggest underlying reasons for their homelessness – is a lack of support and friendships.
The men and women we serve often have nobody they can trust… nobody who “gets them.”
Have you ever heard the saying, “Most of us are only a paycheque away from being homeless”?
Human beings don’t really have many advantages over other animals in terms of strength, size, speed, or senses of sight or smell. Rather, it’s our ability to plan, reason, and – most importantly – to communicate and connect that makes us unique and dominant in the animal kingdom.
But as society continues to tend toward individualism, however, we have seen massive increases in loneliness and isolation — curiously correlated with increases in homelessness in western cultures.
From the 80’s until now, scholars estimate that the percentage of people who felt lonely at any given time has doubled from 20 to 40%!
And with such an astronomical rise in loneliness, we also see an increase in the stigma attached to it. The only thing worse than feeling alone and invisible is feeling shameful about feeling alone and invisible.
This increase in loneliness is also having significant effects on health and mortality.
Did you know that exposure to air pollution increases your chances of early death by 5%? Obesity increases your changes of early death by 20%, and excessive drinking, by 30%. But loneliness, perhaps surprisingly, increases your chances of early death by a staggering 45%!
And while it is certainly rewarding to offer food, drink, clothing, and shelter to our clients to meet their needs, a listening ear is perhaps the most rewarding thing we can offer them.
In many cases our clients were rejected their entire lives. Nobody cared for them and nobody has shown themselves worthy of their trust. Ironically, many are surrounded by people all the time, yet continue to feel isolated and unwanted.
As a Counsellor at the Calgary Drop-In Centre, my job allows me the privilege of getting to know some of these lonely people who feel invisible.
…loneliness, perhaps surprisingly, increases your chances of early death by a staggering 45%!
C.S. Lewis once said, “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth.”
The largest impacts we see occur when clients are asked about their unique stories. When they are heard with curiosity and interest, when someone truly ‘gets’ them, and when someone understands their plight.
When someone takes the time to listen to the reasons for their situation and behaviours, and views them with compassion, empathy, and care… And when clients can realize – perhaps for the first time – that they are valuable, wanted, and important… Not because of what they have accomplished but because everyone is valuable, wanted, and important – then, real progress can be made. Progress towards purposeful and meaningful living rather than mere survival.
Mother Teresa summarized it well when she said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless.” But then went on to add that, “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty”