In the homeless serving sector where I used to work, people would often ask things like, “Why can’t they just take a shower, cut their hair, put on some decent clothes and get a job?’ Or, “Why do they keep making such bad decisions?” (The ‘they’ being individuals experiencing homelessness.)
My answer was generally focused on helping ‘the housed’ understand the challenges and stressors of homelessness.
Making a ‘good’ decision when constantly worrying about where you will sleep that night, or whether or not you’ll survive the night, or even when you’ll get your next fix when the fix is the only thing that eases the pain and fear and trauma of your life, is relative.
A good decision when housed is ensuring you’ve got money in the bank to pay your rent or mortgage, put food on the table, fill your car, what movie to go see, what pair of shoes to wear, what to order at a restaurant.
Decisions when ‘housed’ are based on the choices we have to create change.
In homelessness, the lack of choice impacts every decision.
A good decision in homelessness could be deciding to eat pork, which is contrary to your religious beliefs, because it’s the only thing the shelter kitchen is serving that night and you are hungry.
A good decision in homelessness could be deciding to sleep in the shelter when it’s -30C outside even though the last time you did someone stole your backpack which had the photos of your family in it, the family you haven’t seen in six years but whose photos you couldn’t stop looking at.
A good decision could be deciding to go to the supervised consumption site because you truly do not want to die. Being somewhere safe when you put the needle into your arm could be the difference between life and death. And you choosse life.
And, a good decision could be deciding to get in that pick-up truck with the guy who says he’s got a job for the day at 10 bucks an hour. You know it’s not fair pay but you’re trying to save up to buy a safety helmet, work gloves, and steel-toed boots to get one on the big job sites that pay $25+ an hour.
By the very nature of having to choose between one course of action or the other, every time we make a decision, we encounter stress.
For each of us that level of stress is determined by our environment, circumstances, age, experiences, nature and ability to adapt depending upon the outcome of our decision.
Yesterday, because of my interrupted sleep the night before, I was really, really tired all day. I had a project I needed to get done for work and, even though I don’t work Mondays, I chose to do it yesterday rather than leaving it for today. That decision meant when I went to bed last night I wasn’t stressed about ‘the deadline’ today and had a really good night’s sleep.
This morning I feel rested and refreshed. Eager to meet the day and create something meaningful.
I’ve learned, with age, that putting off until tomorrow something I can do today only adds to my stress load. And, when I’m stressed, I do not sleep well.
Sleep isn’t just important. It’s vital.
In the homeless-serving sector, it’s often said that homelessness ages an individual 10 years. Life expectancy is shorter – not because of the dangers of homelessness. It’s shorter because of the stress load people carry and its impact on their physiological well-being. It’s also shorter because of poor diet, poor health care, uncertainty, stress and so many other factors including… a lack of good sleep.
Want to live well, healthy and vibrant? Get a good night’s rest.