The Land of In-Between | Hidden Homelessness
My story started with domestic violence and a suicide attempt. A friend’s family took me in, but then COVID hit. I moved to someone else’s in November, and then I lost my job. And on Saturday, I’m moving again. I haven’t had luck finding reliable income, and I’m exhausted from applying and cold-pitching.
But I haven’t experienced a full emotion in over a year. I haven’t felt like I could. I’m in someone else’s house, however safe, so I can’t really unwind in the safety of my room. I can’t go home and relax. It is a slow-burning trauma that will take years to recover from.
Don’t misread me. I’m grateful beyond words for those who have taken me in, but I’m tired. I didn’t realize I was homeless until a few weeks ago. But I also realized I wasn’t alone.
This chapter in my life is showing signs of ending soon. I have more job prospects and clients, and I should be able to get a place in the near future. But for so many, the chapter is about to begin.
Most homelessness isn’t on the street. It’s hidden. And COVID has only worsened the situation. Hidden homelessness can take the form of sleeping in a car, with a family/friend, or other temporary accommodations. People in temporary situations don’t usually access homelessness services, so they aren’t represented in most statistics.
Whether it presents as literally staying on someone’s couch, accessing their spare room, or even a mattress on the floor — in situations of over-crowding — there is limited ability for couch surfing individuals to ever feel comfortable and secure for long. This means they often lack the stability required to plan and work towards a solution to their life challenges and homelessness.
There isn’t much online about hidden homelessness in the U.S. Most articles I found were from Canada, Australia, and the UK.
I struggled to write this article because I didn’t have much to go on that wasn’t personal. So much of this issue is unknown because many of us don’t even realize we’re homeless.
I have a storage unit full of home decor and sentimental things. My college diploma. Pet ashes. My rubber duck collection. I haven’t seen any of it in over a year, and I never realized how much their presence mattered until I didn’t have them.
No matter how loving my living situations have been, I’ve still struggled with isolation and depression. It’s been hard to reach out to loved ones because I simply don’t have the energy. And this is a common experience for people in similar situations. People experiencing hidden homelessness have similar rates of chronic illness when compared to visible homelessness.
Positive health outcomes are unlikely when one faces material and social deprivation. Health risk behaviours contribute to poor health status, just as lack of material and social resources can contribute to poor health status. These contributing factors to poor health statuses become like a vicious cycle. This cycle can be very difficult to interrupt, increasing the likelihood of illness and disease. The social determinants of health model links poor quality social supports and environments, poor coping mechanisms, and negative health statuses. Together these are all aspects associated with the processes of social exclusion, that which prevents one from fully engaging and participating within their society.
Healthy coping mechanisms are harder to find because many rely on having a stable routine and safe space. Compound that with any potential relationship stressors with the people you’re living with, and it’s no wonder poor health outcomes are common.
Being autistic, the inaccessibility of a stable routine has been devastating. And already having PTSD due to a housing situation means I don’t have a spare moment from subconscious trauma. Writing is near-impossible some days. Mental health disorders are common amongst homeless people, which adds only another risk factor and barrier.
It’s hard to write this, but that’s why it needs to be written. There aren’t many words to describe what this feels like. But it is trauma. Maybe not sudden trauma, but the stress of prolonged living in temporary situations has an impact on mental and physical health. My depression came back full-force in May, and I still find it difficult to keep in contact with others even though I’ve turned a corner.
I didn’t write this article to complain. I wrote it to combine awareness with a personal voice because it’s so hard to find. In such an isolating situation, it’s important to know you’re not alone.
Housing is only part of the problem, but what’s needed is stable and accessible housing. So many people are caught in-between, and once COVID protections are expired, we’re going to have a housing crisis, and if current statistics are any indicator, most of it will be hidden. We need to make sure it isn’t forgotten.