The Many Faces of Homelessness

What do you think of when you hear the word “homeless?”

I think of the misunderstood people: the husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. The real people beneath the worn clothes and weathered skin. I can see a person that has traveled a far different path than mine. Their path may have had a different beginning, or perhaps it has crossed disaster that I have yet to face. They may have seen tragedy that I will never have to endure. However they have arrived in their current position, I cannot rationalize it based on my understanding of my own existence.

Working as an intern architect has taught me so much more about what it means to be homeless and I know the learning process will never end. These lessons deserve far more attention than what can be given in a single blog post, so for today I wanted to focus on one:

Homelessness is a term that goes far beyond what many of us have come to know when we think of a person that is without a home. Homelessness may be related to mental illness and substance abuse, however it may also be related to war, natural disaster, verbal or physical abuse, divorce, family tragedy, severe injury or disease, and the list goes on. No cause of homelessness is more noble than another, each situation simply requires its own unique strategy to overcome. There are real people behind the term “homeless.” People of all socioeconomic walks of life, all ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations.

Homelessness is not a dirty word. I am sure many of you reading this know that already. I am also sure you wouldn’t be surprised to know that many public reactions are still incredibly negative. These are the reactions you will have to be prepared to face as an architect.

The truth is, any one of us could have our homes taken away at any moment. I am fortunate enough to be working on a project that demonstrates this fact clearly and it acts as a meaningful reminder of the preciousness and fragility of life. The project is for individuals with limited mobility, who can no longer access their homes. The strength of these individuals is unparalleled, and their situations inspire me to reflect on my own life:

What if today I was involved in an accident that would leave me paralyzed?

What if I started noticing strange things about my body: strange pains, tremors, numbness, that led to a diagnosis of a degenerative disease?

How would I feel if I could never walk again? If navigating the place that I currently call home became impossible? If I could never again ascend my front steps, prepare my own meals, bathe, or get in and out of bed without help?

How would this impact my loved ones? How would my boyfriend cope? What would this mean for my parents, who are currently happily retired in another province? Where would I live? Who would take care of me? How would I feel about putting that weight on another person’s shoulders?

How would such a life changing event impact you?

Awareness of the realities of homelessness seems stronger than ever before. Many communities are taking to an evidence-based approach in formulating solutions for homelessness that are seeing real results. With these initiatives being carried out by various organizations, we as individuals still have a part to play. Our role begins with the humanization of the term “homeless.”





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