Who are the unhoused of Bristol?

Who are the unhoused of Bristol?

Brian Plank

On February 12, 2004, I lost my wife, Tammy, to a prescription drug overdose. She was involved in a car accident in 1997 that resulted in three back surgeries, nearly leaving my family homeless.

It’s a much longer story, but from this experience I gained an empathetic perspective for those dealing with drug issues and homelessness.

Fast forward to 2015 and I had a well paying job and had remarried. One day I received a call from my pastor and mentor, Dr. Dwayne Baird asking me to work with him on the Haven of Rest rescue mission. After talking to my wife about it and praying a lot, I took the pay cut and went to work for The Haven to see if God could use the difficult chapter in my life to help improve someone else’s life change. I am happy to say up front that there have been numerous instances where this has been the case.

Working for the Haven of Rest rescue mission, I quickly realized how little I knew about the lived experience of homelessness or the complexities of overcoming it. It is a tragic, terrifying and hopeless existence. It comes at an enormous price in loss of human dignity and self-esteem, and undermines the physical and mental health of those who suffer.

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Homelessness is an equal opportunity issue. I expected to see people with little education and a poor background. After all, these would be the most vulnerable of our citizens. What surprised me, however, was meeting homeless people with exceptional manual skills, such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers. Even more surprising were those with college degrees, and to top it all off, we once hosted a chemical engineer with a master’s degree.

There is no age limit for the homeless. We have accommodated families of newborns and adult males and females into their 80’s. We have helped people from all economic backgrounds through episodes of homelessness.

Many individuals affected by homelessness have had multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACES) or experiences that led to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The former can interfere with normal brain development in children and cause lifelong problems that negatively impact behavior and life expectancy. PTSD affects many homeless military veterans, but anyone who has experienced a traumatic event can have this diagnosis. When dealing with homeless people, it is important to be aware of what may have happened to them that may be contributing to their situation.

The reasons for homelessness are varied. There are the reasons everyone expects, such as; B. the loss of a job. Almost half of those we look after for this reason are undocumented, which makes it difficult for them to reintegrate quickly into the labor market. The current market is a blessing as there are many jobs in the Bristol area. As long as those affected have their identification (birth certificate, social security card, and government-issued photo ID) or can quickly retrieve it, they can easily find work. However, it does not follow from this that they will be accommodated immediately.

Another reason for homelessness that everyone expects is bad choices that led to drug and alcohol abuse. These people face an uphill battle to recover as they may have been incarcerated and accumulated a crime that can limit their ability to work and live. There are also a limited number of long-term rehab facilities (most short-term facilities of 30 days or less are of little value). Most of them have long waiting lists and require insurance.

Less common but still prevalent reasons for homelessness include aging adolescents from foster care, the end of a relationship, the death of a spouse, and verbal or sexual abuse. Low-income individuals can find themselves financially overwhelmed and homeless due to unexpected healthcare expenses, the loss of a vehicle, or the need for expensive home repairs that make their living space unlivable.

We are currently seeing loyal tenants being evicted to allow landlords to renovate their properties and skyrocket rents. Although they have income and have always fulfilled their obligations, they have nowhere to go now.

Other tragic reasons for homelessness are physical disabilities or mental health problems. People with physical disabilities cannot easily access local shelters because they are unable to navigate congregational environments or are unable to perform activities of daily living, which means they need more skilled care than local shelters can afford.

Those dealing with mental health issues may have difficulty entering shelters such as the Haven of Rest or the Salvation Army due to disruptive behavior or fear of being in a congregation environment. They struggle to keep a schedule, which causes them to miss curfews and medication. That means these men and women are on the streets of Bristol. They remain untreated due to a lack of resources and the delusional aspects of their paranoia, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder and fail to recognize that they need help. I believe that the majority of them could lead normal lives if they had regular access to counseling and medication.

It is not within the scope of my narrative to address the need for affordable housing in Bristol. Another of my colleagues will delve into this at length, but I can state a sobering fact.

If I could wave a magic wand and tomorrow heal the mentally ill and disabled, if I could eliminate addiction and find jobs for anyone who needed one, mend relationships and give hope to the hopeless, homelessness in Bristol wouldn’t go away.

There isn’t enough affordable housing, so men and women leave the shelters after they’ve been cleaned, found a job, received the necessary counseling and care, and done all the work to move forward, only to find they have no place have to go to other than back on the road.

I hope we can come together as a community to ensure Bristol’s homeless are sheltered and given the all-round services they need to heal and thrive. Inaction will bring increasing misery to the homeless, and Bristol will suffer as their numbers grow from generation to generation.

Brian Plank is the Managing Director of the Haven of Rest rescue mission. This is the second of a four-part Sunday opinion series covering Bristol’s homeless problem.

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