Resolving Homelessness…Through Food?!?

Okay, as of now I’ve created a new category on my blog called In Between. This is where I will post stories reflecting moments between those featured in the GAPS Guide book. These are the events that were left out of the book because they were not directly relevant to how food healed both me and my son. But they do reflect why I am am so passionate about people receiving relevant support! So here goes…

Those of you who have read my book know that I was homeless. After my valiant attempts to hang on to rental accommodation failed, I tried shelters. The women’s one I had access to was brand new, bright, clean, and beautifully appointed, but several of the guests were extremely tough -carrying knives and threatening violence- and I was afraid of getting hurt. The two co-ed ones I stayed in held at least 50 men to every 1 woman. Most of the men were absolute gentlemen, but the handful that, er, really weren’t left me feeling unsafe. Also, these two large shelters were crowded, dirty, and very noisy day and night, with several women to each bedroom and some screaming in their sleep. So I finally opted to sleep on sidewalks where the world was, oddly, both quieter and safer.

Happily, I was not homeless during the winter in the colder parts of Canada. In the coldest part of the year, I was in Victoria, BC -one of the warmest areas of Canada (thus attracting many folks who know they are on the downward spiral to absolute homelessness). The catch? It rains copiously from fall through spring.

A challenge for people who are homeless in cool, rainy areas is that you must still stay warm, but once your stuff is soaked through, it’s game over. You have no way to dry your sleeping bag (if you’re lucky enough to have one), your socks, or the rest of your clothes. Wearing wet clothes in cool temperatures puts one at high risk of developing hypothermia, not to mention fungal infections of the feet, and so on. Immediately preceding this point in my life, I worked as a home support worker and as a residential care attendant, and I had had several clients who had lost toes or fingers as a result of the very circumstances I was now in. I also had a friend who, in a state of dysphoria or psychosis in an interior city one night, slept in a park’s bushes and woke to require amputation of several toes. (She was about 22 years old at the time, very kind and gentle, and looked healthy and beautiful. We cannot gauge risk by looking at a person. Dysphoria and/or pyschosis often give little notice.)

Using wet supplies in cool temperatures can kill you. This is why you will see gorgeous, name-brand, donated sleeping bags or coats discarded on the sidewalk. They got wet, and the owner had no option for drying them. Nowadays, more and more agencies in Canada are offering people emergency shelter during winter’s rain or snow, and an increasing number are looking at how they might also provide access to dryers. These efforts are admirable and, simply, awesome! At this point, however, there remain countless people still sleeping or living in unfavourable conditions.

This is why I was tickled pink today to find my son’s youth group -perhaps a dozen kids between the ages of 4 and 17- sewing fleece tube scarves for people who are homeless. The tube scarves can be worn or otherwise used in multiple ways: to protect the neck or whole face, as a hat (preventing most of a body’s potential heat loss), as a headband, to stuff with clothes into a “pillow”, and so on. The fleece is warm, light, packs small, and dries quickly. As my son sat at a machine and learned to pin and stitch three seams, I teared up with gratitude. Gratitude for where I am today. Gratitude that I have my dear son. Gratitude for how far he, too, has come in his life journey. Gratitude that this group’s facilitators thought to make this perfect gift, and that the leader opened the activity with accurate information about how homelessness can come about -including for people who work hard and have no addictions.

When my son initially wanted to make the scarf for himself, I asked him to imagine me 20 years ago, keenly and appreciatively receiving his gift of warmth and comfort and care.

In my case, my homelessness came about despite working and volunteering up to 60 hours a week, being free of any addictions, paying my rent on time every month, and so on. It came about primarily because of the food I was eating. Who knew? Well, Dr Abram Hoffer did, and he started me on the path to wellness, which is what would ultimately allow me to maintain a home.

I’m so glad my son was supported today to consider people whose lives are currently less comfortable than his own. I’m so glad he was supported to work on a tangible intervention in another’s struggle. But I’m even more happy that my son has already lived his own experience of moving from desperate circumstances to wellness through food, and that he now has this information for life.

To all of you doing the years and years of groundwork to create physical shelters, thank you! To all of you working behind the scenes on non-profit boards to develop policies for safer shelters, thank you! To all of you cooking food for hundreds of people at any one shelter, thank you! To all of you donating sleeping bags and coats and dryer tokens -and sewing fleece tube scarves- for folks sleeping outside, thank you! All of these emergency supports can make all the difference in a person’s immediate survival, as well as in one’s sense of being valued by one’s community and by humankind. And to all of you with a longer term focus -spreading the word about how food can make us grounded, calm, clear-thinking, and vigorous enough to sustain finances and housing- again, heaps and heaps of thanks!

Love, Baden

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3 thoughts on “Resolving Homelessness…Through Food?!?

  1. I enjoyed this post. I wish more people realized how much we fortunate ones are like the homeless. So very little actually separates us and it wouldn’t take much to make many of us homeless.
    One thing in your post that bothered me, though, was the inference that addictions somehow made homelessness the fault of the individual where other forms of mental illness did not. Through years of reading in an attempt to understand the nature of addiction, I have come to believe that it is usually NOT under the control of the person any more than breathing is. I could ask you to stop breathing, and you would be able to do it–for a short time–and then would become increasingly uncomfortable until you had to take a large gasp of breath. The fact that a person can stop using for a time through willpower does not mean that the person can continue to abstain indefinitely through willpower alone. Of course, some few do manage purely on their own, and many more through the help of groups such as AA. But I know that others can be helped to avoid cravings for harmful substances simply through the judicious use of amino acids and other supplements. I don’t think you meant to imply that addictions are the fault of the individual, but let’s be careful not to encourage that interpretation. People struggling with addictions need as much empathy and help as those living with any other form of mental illness.

    • Yvonne, thank you so much for posting these thoughtful comments!

      I agree with you 100%.

      You’re correct that I didn’t mean at all to imply that homelessness (or addiction) is somehow the fault of the person with addiction. In my book, where I say I was aware that my fellow homeless folks were there because of “…medical issues…”, I was referring to everything from so-called “mental illness”, to addiction, to physical ailments. (I actually see addiction and mental illness as “physical ailments”, too.) In my mind, those are all medical issues. Homelessness can also come about when there is no medical issue, but the person has lost a job in an environment where no more “living wage” jobs are currently available. Homelessness can result from any challenge, period, and I’ve never met a person who could be faulted for their homelessness.

      I really appreciate you bringing these words of clarity to this page!

      Thanks also for noting here that nutritional options can help resolve cravings for harmful substances. This is definitely the experience of many, and one I touch on in GAPS Guide 2nd Edition, as well as on this blog’s Addiction post/conversation.

      I anticipate posting more about addiction in future, and I will think about your words before I hit “publish” on those, in hopes my views will be presented more clearly next time. And if I don’t, I will welcome your saying so again!

      All my best,
      Baden

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