Homelessness Hurts: How being homeless can affect mental health

It’s no surprise that being without a home can weigh heavily on the mind and heart. Homelessness implies more than simply lacking physical necessities; it can also have a debilitating effect on mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. People who are homeless deal with circumstances that most of us can hardly imagine, and it’s important to remember that not every side effect of homelessness is directly visible to the eye. Mental illness is experienced by roughly one-third of the homeless community, and is a major barrier to getting off the streets.

Homelessness is stressful.

For those who are homeless, every new day marks the beginning of another struggle to find a place to sleep, enough food to get by on, or shelter from the elements. The pressures that they face to secure their own survival every day are unimaginable for most of us, and can be incredibly stressful. Exposure to substance abuse, crime, and domestic violence is common among the homeless community only add to the stress.

Homelessness is isolating.

Many people become homeless as a result of the loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown. People without strong support networks can have a difficult time overcoming such traumatic events, which can then lead to a cycle of isolation, and potentially towards homelessness. Since there are few places people who are homeless can go where they are welcome, a third of them spend their entire day alone.

Homelessness is depressing.

Rates of depression and suicide among homeless people are much higher than in the general population. According to the Canadian Population Health Initiative, up to 61% of homeless adults experience suicidal thoughts. Confidence and self-esteem are inevitably diminished by homelessness. The feelings of defeat and worthlessness that so often accompany homelessness can be crippling, and can prevent people from seeking help.

Homelessness hurts, but there are ways to help.

At Bissell Centre, we offer mental health services to people in our community who need it most. Our program provides immediate, short-term support for those with mental health concerns. For longer-term support, we partner with Alberta Health Services to connect participants with qualified psychiatrists, doctors, and other health professionals in our community, bringing them one step closer to getting off the streets.

The journey to health and recovery is not always an easy one, but here at Bissell Centre, we make sure that nobody has to walk it alone.

Learn more about our Mental Health Services.

Roger’s Story of Giving Back

Roger arrived in Edmonton 17 years ago, when he was 49 years old. A few years before he moved, he was hurt in a firefighting accident and spent a year in a body cast. After that, he couldn’t go back to firefighting, and started working for a soft drink company instead.

He worked there for nine years, while living in Edmonton. When he retired, he found that he could no longer make ends meet and quickly became homeless. That’s when he found out about Bissell Centre, and came for his first visit—about seven years ago.

Our staff could see right away that he had a kind heart, as he opened up about his story over coffee and a snack in our Drop-in Centre. We were pleased when he returned the next day, and overjoyed when he came back multiple times over the next week!

For the next five years, Roger lived on the streets of Edmonton’s inner city. He made a shelter out of a tarp, for himself, down in the river valley. He never carried personal items with him, like photos or mementos, for fear that they would be stolen or damaged. And whenever he could, he’d come visit us at Bissell Centre.

Even though his past has been difficult, the Roger that we’ve come to know and love is a man full of compassion and generosity. A few years ago, he lost his sister, a niece and a granddaughter to an impaired driver. But instead of letting bitterness overcome him, he puts his energy into loving the family he does have—as well as his family here at Bissell Centre.

He even manages to send his two remaining grandchildren some money to put towards their education fund—whatever he makes from odd jobs.

“I made a promise to a friend before she passed away. She asked me to help people if I could. I told her I would and I’ve done it up to this day.”

 

Not long after he started visiting Bissell Centre regularly, Roger also started volunteering with us. When we asked him if he wanted to help out, he was eager to start giving back. And since he already loved spending time with our community—building trust and friendships with everyone he met—he was the perfect fit.

Two years ago, after five years of trying to find a housing situation that was within his means, Roger found a new home with the ongoing help and support of Bissell Centre’s Housing Services. We’ve been so encouraged by the steady growth we’ve seen in this gem of a man, and are thrilled that at 66, he has a place to call home—both at his apartment and here at Bissell.

When we asked Roger why he’s so passionate about giving back, he said, “I made a promise to a friend before she passed away. She asked me to help people if I could. I told her I would and I’ve done it up to this day.” Getting housed was another part of this commitment—showing by example that it is possible for anyone coming in off the streets to get housed.

Roger has truly become a part of our family here, and we’re as delighted as he is, by the relationships he’s built. “I’m either Dad, Uncle, or Grandpa around here,” he says proudly, describing his role to the other community members at Bissell Centre.

As he continues to volunteer with us, he’s continually a beacon of friendliness, hope and understanding for everyone he comes in contact with, and we’re so grateful for his faithful willingness to help.

Please give to help more people like Roger by donating here: bissellcentre.org/donate