Homelessness and PTSD

Trigger warning: some people may be triggered by information contained in this entry that pertains to personal violation.  Please proceed with caution, and read at your own risk.  

Earlier, when I created a talk on this theme, I did not believe I could capsulize my thoughts into a single blog post.   So I talked for a half hour instead.

I’ve since changed my mind.   It’s taken over a week for me to discover how to present these ideas more succinctly, in a logical order.  The first thing I would like to address is that people are generally unaware that homelessness — with all its confusing, unpredictable, and dangerous components — is as much a breeding grounds for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as situations arising in combat or from having been physically or sexually abused.

PTSD is triggered when something happens to remind a person of past trauma, the memories of which are often buried.  When the reminder occurs, one leaps into the context of the trauma formerly inflicted.  And then, one begins to relive the entire circumstances involved in that traumatic event.

See the source imageSevere abuse comes with the homeless territory.  A person who is exposed, out in the open twenty-four hours a day, is a visible target.  This person is made even more vulnerable when they are sleeping.  When I was homeless, I was pistol-whipped, subjected to strong arm robbery, sexually abused, subjected to arson, and physically abused multiple times.  Any one of those situations can lead to PTSD — let alone all of them in confluence.

Because the first of these traumatic events was a sexual violation that took place on a very hot day when I could find no way out of it, I have been triggered on extremely hot days when I was lost and did not have clear directions to where I was going.  My PTSD counselor and I worked out a series of steps that I would take automatically if I felt that the PTSD had been triggered.  I would stop and take a number of deep breaths while looking for a shady spot.  Then I would sit in the shady spot, no longer moving around or looking where I might go, until the PTSD had subdued.

The reason for taking such steps is because I was reliving the horrific event of a sexual assault.  When the horrible event was over, and the rapist disappeared, I was so freaked out that I ran five miles in 90F degree weather.  That single event has affected my sexual attitudes for life.

But that was only a solitary example of numerous violations that were to ensue during the twelve years when I was homeless and “borderline-homelessness” — by which I mean staying in motels, residence hotels, and other sketch indoor situations.   The overall experience of homelessness carried with it its own set of triggers.   By and large, these were based on two things:

(1) A sense of inequality with, and inferiority to, the people around me.  

(2) A sense of being fully exposed in a context where most of the people were concealed.  

An example of something that triggered me was the event of having a story of mine published on a news site that permitted comments from its readers.  All of the readers had usernames and avatars.  One of them referred to having known me personally — but I had no idea, nor was I able to learn, who this person was.  This bore enough resemblance to the homeless context that I began to relive my homeless experience.

More information about PTSD triggers may be found here, for starts.  An excellent article exploring PTSD among the homeless may be found here.  And of course, further information on the Homeless Experience can be found all over this blog.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
A little bit goes a long, long way.  

 

Homeless by Choice

On the Q&A site Quora, dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge by those “in the know,” I was asked if I thought there was anything wrong with being “homeless by choice.”  Here’s my answer:

There is nothing morally wrong with being homeless by choice. One has a right to do whatever they wish to do as long as it does not impinge upon the rights of others. Therefore, if one wants to be homeless, and one is not harming anyone in the process, one can rightly exercise that choice.

However, this does beg the question as to why one would want to be homeless by choice; and in fact, if one choosing to be homeless is actually choosing a preferred lifestyle, or merely the lesser of evils in an untenable situation.

home sweet homelessThere are three general reasons why one would “choose” being homeless over an indoor living situation:

(1) lack of privacy in the indoor situation

(2) abuse or neglect in the indoor situation

(3) inability to keep up with the cost of living indoors

I was homeless in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years.  As I stated in this post, I often had a difficult time with shelters and other group situations due to the lack of privacy. I also found it next-to-impossible to keep up with the rising cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The trade-off was made palatable due to my not having to pay exorbitant rental fees, often subjected to rent increases every six months.

Although I personally would not have characterized any of my living situations as “abusive,” I certainly have met numerous people, mostly young people, who chose to live “home free” following emancipation from abusive parents or guardians. To many of them, the idea of living indoors was associated with bondage, violence, and sexual violation. Of course they should not be faulted for wishing to escape such horrible home lives. This is why many such young people will not use the term “homeless” to describe their lifestyle. They prefer the term “home free” — and this is telling.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.
Anything Helps – God Bless!