Sep 232014

“When the going get tough, the tough get going”
A good sport concept, but it has wider implications
What we call “copers” have this capacity

I will count myself among them

But we also have a tendency
to ease up too much
when things are going our way

How to counter this
I have not a clue

Do you?


This little prose-poem has relevance to the homeless experience. There are folks who tend to rise to the occasion with the bottom falls out and they lose their residence. But when actual homelessness strikes, it can be very difficult for even these copers to get back on their feet for a long while.







The precipitants of homelessness are varied—marriage breakup, chronic unemployment, mental illness, addiction, sociopathic tendencies that have landed the individual in prison (and suddenly they are back on the street once again), The person may have been the subject of unrelenting abuse and this has led to a breakdown of his or her normal coping mechanisms. But whatever the cause, some individuals are better able to cope before homelessness has a chance to strive; hence, they may avoid the final breakdown that leads to life on the street.


Others are, for a variety of reasons, unable to deal with the multiple stresses that arise in most people’s lives. And these are the individuals at high risk for homelessness. These are the individuals who require help to learn adequate coping skills during the downward slide that precedes homelessness. During this period, the going may not appear to be so tough, or critical. The person may be in denial of their inability to cope or of the pitfalls inherent in their situation. Breaking through such denial—well, any denial—can be an enormously task for a formal or informal helper.


Obviously, it is preferable to prevent homelessness rather than rehab the person to the point where they can regain residential and monetary independence, just as it is easier to treat many illnesses in their early stages.


I can recall having to go to a shelter twice, prior to actual homelessness. I have blocked out the reason for this, in one instance. I was working and had money. In the other instance, for some reason, I did not have the coping skills at a time to secure an apartment or room for myself. Again, I was working at the time and had money. But I had somehow lost the ability to secure my own residence. Part of the problem may have been that I was still an untreated Bipolar during that period.


Landing in shelters twice prior to extended homelessness should have been a huge red flag to me. But I kept trying to regain stability on my own, when I should have sought professional help.


Part of the problem was that I was actually counseling othersw at a time. Admitting you have a serious personal problem can be a huge impediment for a counselor. Theoretically, you have effective employee assistance programs in place, but in practice they may not function the way they should on paper, and the counselor with an emotional or substance problem may be too ashamed or fearful to expose themselves to the helping network.


Fear of losing the job may come to dominate the individual’s thinking during the pre-homeless period—preventing him or her from taking steps to reveal a problem to the boss or even so-called confidential resources.


And think about it: the counselor is the person who is supposed to have the answers to life’s problems—not subsumed in problems, him or herself.


Sometimes professional boundaries may break down and the impaired counselor may cross the line that divided counseling from friendship or romantic involvement. Such a breakdown can signal a wider breakdown emotionally or may signal serious substance abuse. Yet, this is an area of dysfunction that the counselor may be particularly afraid to reveal to anyone.


Secrets that are inappropriately kept under wraps can be enormously destructive to the individual and those around him or her.


So my main point is that the pre-homeless period is critical in the intervention process. Somehow, the individual on a precipitous downward path must be made to feel that it is really ok to seek professional help or even personal guidance. Sometimes a trusted friend can be a key person in leading the individual in the pre-homeless period back to a clear-eyed view of his or her circumstances and what might be required to extricate oneself from the complicated morass that often leads up to the condition of actual homelessness.



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