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Homelessness is defined as a person's experience or state of not having primary or stable housing, resulting in a situation in which he or she does not have a designated abode. Homelessness has been a major societal problem in the United States over the years, but it increased considerably after the 1930s economic crisis, known as the Great Depression. Even though the financial crisis was supposed to be a temporary issue, its consequences were severe, since it led to an increase in poverty, forcing many people to quit their homes in order to obtain necessities such as food.Consequently, the number of individuals and families who were homeless increased substantially during the 1980s, which was a result of the government’s reducing the rates of social services it offered to the citizens, more so the housing services. Ultimately, this issue prompted a relatively high level of public awareness (Rosenheck, 1994). According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on a single night in 2016, an estimated 550,000 people in the country were homeless, with the majority (68% of them) seeking refuge in emergency shelters, transitional housing programs, or safe havens while 32% lived in unsheltered locations. More than a fifth of the homeless population (22%) was children and close to a tenth (9%) fell between the age of eighteen and nineteen years (HUD, 2016).
Homelessness is caused by many reasons, but the main ones include trauma, mental illness, and substance abuse. Trauma, which will be the focus of this study, refers to a case whereby those who experience tragic life occurrences such as the loss of loved ones, loss of employment, domestic violence, divorce, and family issues end up deserting their homes and instead live in other places such as the streets. Mental illness is a case whereby some people suffer from disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, which eventually makes them flee from their homes, this category includes people who have been either diagnosed or undiagnosed with mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Substance abuse relates to abuse of both alcohol and drugs (both legal prescription medications and illegal substances), which is also a significant cause of homelessness in the present day American society (Padgett, Hawkins, Adam & Davis, 2010). Even though various measures have been put in place (such as increasing the number of social programs aimed at decreasing homelessness) to curb this worrying trend, the desired goals are yet to be achieved (Goodman, Saxe, & Harvey, 1991). Therefore, it is necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon and what might be done to mitigate its deleterious effects.
In the social sciences, we often look to theory in the search for understanding and possible solutions. Although many different theories can be referenced and consulted in this context, the three that we will focus on here are systems theory, psychodynamic theory, and the developmental theory. The discussion of these three arguments will be conducted through the lens of trauma, as the causative factor selected for purposes of this paper. The systems theory illustrates how the behavior of an individual can be affected by various elements he/she interacts within his/her environment while the psychodynamic approach sheds light on the factors that influence one’s behaviors, emotions, and even feelings. On the other hand, the developmental theory outlines the changes in a child’s behavior as he/she undergoes various stages of development. Therefore, it is evident that the essence of these arguments in this paper cannot be underestimated as they provide critical information on some of the factors that can adversely affect an individual – such as past traumatic experiences.
Systems Theory explains human behavior as the intersection of the influences of multiple interrelated systems that function in two directions, which means if one part of the system changes it affects the other (Hutchison, Charlesworth & Cummings, 2015). Ecological System Theory examines the interactions between individuals and their surrounding environments, emphasizing their mutual influence (Hutchison, Charlesworth & Cummings, 2015). According to Bronfenbrenner’s theory of Ecological System theory, there exist various complex layers of environment, which affects an individual’s development. Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1994) defined the microsystem as patterns formed by the activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations that individuals have in an immediate environment with such as family, peer groups, and institutions. Individuals who are homeless often have difficulties in interacting with their environment and processing their emotions. Besides, they have to lack social support or a favorable social network that would enable them to respond to some of the issues affecting them. This negatively affects one's ability to function well and successfully overcome the challenges one might encounter in his/her life. Besides, the lack of social support makes them develop a low self-esteem and a relatively minimal feeling of self-worth. The mesosystem, as described by Bronfenbrenner, consists of interrelationships between two or more microsystems in which the individual is in contact with for example Local and State resources, or the connection between him/her and the church or even his/her parents. Lack of access to information about resources that may be available to them locally and at the State level acts as the primary barrier that hinders them from embracing opportunities that would boost their standards of living – for example, having a home. Therefore, such restrictions create a profoundly negative environment in which homeless people fail to access effective programs that are local or statewide concerning solving their homelessness issues. The macrosystem level is referred to as a kind of cultural “blueprint,” one that may determine the social structures and activities at the next system levels. It includes organizational, social, cultural, and political contexts, which may, in turn, affect the interactions within other systems (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). This level is one at which homeless people experience discrimination on a daily basis as they strive to procure jobs, services, and housing. Such discrimination is often prompted by appearances and any stereotypes the community members may have towards them, which ultimately reduce their potential to keep on seeking for adequate means to boost their standards of living.
People who end up becoming homeless due to trauma are often unable to find stable housing and become a part of society after having endured the trauma. A breakdown in their social roles leads to a consequent decline in the level of their dynamic interactions with other members of society. Often there may be a combination of several traumatizing factors – such as the death of a beloved person or loss of employment – that adversely affects the people, hence, making them hopeless in life. A lot of the homeless people have cited that, their lives have been marred by various challenges since early childhood. For instance, some argue that violence between them and their family members is what prompted them to leave mainstream society, becoming wanderers. In many cases, their conditions are worsened by their struggles with alcohol and drug addiction from an early age as they believe that the use of such drugs would facilitate them to overcome the traumatic experiences they may have come across (Goodman, 1991).
Strengths and Limitations of the Theory
The theory clearly outlines the issues that may adversely affect a child’s development, hence, causing him/her trauma. Therefore, one gets insight on what he/she should avoid in life to make sure that he/she leads a favorable life.
The main weakness of this theory is that it focuses on a broad spectrum of issues that affect the development of a human being, which might not be easily comprehended by every societal member.
The theory also sheds light on human being as a social being rather than isolating him/her form his/her environment.
The theory offers a holistic approach to human life since Bronfenbrenner incorporates his theoretical perspectives with practical knowledge, which justifies the main ideas brought forward in the theory.
The second perspective under consideration in this study is the psychodynamic theory, which sheds light on the effects of an individuals’ emotions on his/her life as well as the nature of his/her reactions with the societal members. Unfortunately, a great number of people are more likely to become homeless because of traumatic experiences dating from early childhood experiences. As they enter adulthood, these individuals often have significant problems with emotional regulation and intense feelings of isolation often accompanying them throughout their lives. The negative experiences in their pasts may be at the root of their family problems and the breakdown of relationships that may lead eventually to homelessness (Lewis, 1984). Evidence suggests that more than half the people who are homeless have always lived on the streets since their childhood. Moreover, most of them have been a lot of significant traumatic experiences, including physical abuse, rape or personally witnessing serious crimes. Children are usually susceptible to their experiences at an early age and in many cases, the success of their future relationships depend on how they respond to or recover from those early experiences. As children excel at acquiring new skills and exploring their environments, it is important for them to experience positive emotions while interacting with parents and other children. To encourage the normal mental health of a child, the development of useful habits including effective communication as part of the process of their socialization is precious. People who become homeless at an early age constitute a high-risk group. Homelessness for them may become an ego defense mechanism, an ideal way of avoiding the mistakes and hardships that are a normal part of everyday life. To prevent the destructive factors of emotional instability, especially while working with difficult family situations, social workers should pay a high level of attention to children’s states of health, especially their emotional states (Goodman, 1991).
Strengths and Limitations of the Theory
The theory provides a comprehensive overview of what influences the personality of a human being key among them being striving to overcome the everyday challenges one encounters in life.
According to the theory, a person’s behavior is predetermined, which is as a result of his/her interactions with nature, thus, people have no choice on the behaviors they adopt.
The theory effectively points out the adverse effects of early childhood experiences on an individual’s future life.
Although the scholars have provided convincing explanation on the nature of human personalities, the theory lacks scientific back up to justify its validity.
The scholars not only focus on the effects of nature on an individual but also the effects of nurture on a child’s life.
There have been concerns that the theory is quite deterministic since its proponents point out that early childhood experiences – such as suffering from trauma – would no doubt have some effects on the future life of an individual.
The third theory to consider in this context is developmental, which dictates that people go through several stages of development, whereby their roles at each stage change over time. The person behaves distinctly at each stage, which is influenced by his/her experiences in the preceding step (Jonathan 2014).
Childhood is assigned a central role in personality development because this is the time when the most significant part of personal habits is formed. This explains why a child who has experienced the trauma of homelessness may have more difficulty building strong relationships and reasonably expressing emotions. Isolation at an early age can be destructive regarding personality development, giving rise to socially deviant behavior (Jonathan, 2014).
Every new stage of life poses new tasks and challenges. The resulting evolution and accompanying experiences form the basis of future relationships and overall success. Stressful situations and psychological violence—especially in childhood—can have an adverse effect concerning personality development. The same way that positive experiences can facilitate learning and make us stronger, traumatic situations may destroy mental health, good habits, and emotional stability. A person who loses their sense of security may seek to avoid all relationships that are reminders of a negative experience. A person may even refuse to accept a new role, one that is appropriate for the present stage of personal development (Goodman, 1991). One example from my own experience with clients is the case of a man who had been homeless for 28 years who had been given an apartment with a bedroom and bed in which to sleep but slept on the living room floor because he had conditioned himself to feel that this was his place—and he eventually lost his apartment because he thought that it was not consistent with his internal reality.
Strengths and Limitations of the Theory
The theory provides insight on the essence of strengthening some of the factors that can be reinforced to enhance the future welfare of a person.
The theory focuses on the development of an individual instead of the learning process that makes an individual to acquire some behavior traits.
The scholars – such as Piaget – effectively demonstrate the development of a child from both a nurturing and a nature perspective, which makes it easier for people to have a comprehensive understanding of a child’s growth.
Another limitation of the theory is that it outlines key stages, which the child has to undergo in the process of learning instead of addressing the complexities that may arise in the course of his/her life and result into a significant change in his/her behaviors.
In addition, the theory depicts the potential of the people to change and develop over time, which has made key institutions – such as the educational ones – in the society.
Application of the Theory
Based on the above analysis, it is essential to come up with an intervention means that would help the society members overcome this social problem. As mentioned above, the theories put into perspective provide useful insight on how they can be used to help people avoid encountering traumatic experiences that may adversely affect their future lives. First, these theories can be incorporated in therapy sessions, where the affected individuals are counseled as a means of encouraging them to face any challenge in life boldly and with the determination that they shall triumph. Since most of the people who end up becoming homeless due to past traumas lack someone they can share their experiences with in order to seek favorable means of overcoming the challenges they might be going through, it would be important for the counselors to organize narrative sessions with the homeless people, a case that is known as narrative therapy. Murdock (2009) claims that sequential therapy can be termed as a storytelling process whereby the traumatized people are given an opportunity to share their life experiences with others and also seek favorable measures that would help them to overcome such challenges if they recur in their lives. Therefore, the core element of the intervention initiative is to give the affected people an opportunity to air out their past grievances, which might have played a significant role in making them homeless. As the theories postulate, practical understanding of such occurrences would play a key role in helping the victims to come up with favorable strategies for overcoming the trauma.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Approach
The main advantages of this approach include;
• It will give the homeless people an opportunity to share their life experiences with people who are willing to help them overcome the issues that may have traumatized them, hence, making them flee from their homes.
• Some of the people are homeless due to lack of people who they can socialize with and look upon once they encounter any challenge. Therefore, the narrative sessions will give such people a chance to socialize with other community members, thus, making them feel loved and appreciated.
• Through the narrative meetings, it would also be possible for the therapists to formulate adequate strategies that would be used by such people to overcome future challenges, which would hinder them from becoming homeless again once they are incorporated back into the society.
On the other hand, the major limitations of this approach would be;
• It would be quite challenging for the counselors to persuade the homeless people to feel free and share their life experiences with others as they (the homeless individuals) already feel that they do not share the same experiences with the other members of the society who live in good homes.
• It won’t be easy to incorporate the homeless people back to the mainstream society with ease since some of them would be still stigmatized, which would make them flee from their homes again or engage in an uncouth conduct –such as drug abuse.
• Some of the homeless people have become content with their current life due to hopelessness, which implies that integrating them back into the mainstream society would be quite challenging.
Evidence-Based Practice of the Approach
There exist various cases where the narrative therapy sessions have been found to be quite effective in assisting people to overcome the challenges they may encounter in their lives. According to Morgan, people should set aside some time to meditate and analyze some of the issues they may have gone through in life with an objective of formulating effective strategies of overcoming the ones that may have adversely affected them (Morgan, 2002). According to Morgan, some of the people – for instance, the aged and the traumatized ones – should be guided in recalling some of their past life experiences to enable them to design favorable ways of overcoming them.
To sum up, the phenomenon of homelessness can be understood in terms of three factors, including previous traumatic experience, the focus of this paper. Sometimes such traumatic experience results from situations in early childhood that damage personality development and the individual's mental health. People who experience homelessness at an old age are more likely to live in the streets as adults if they encounter difficulties. The three theoretical perspectives discussed above help to give us insight into this condition, the understanding for which can be the basis for practical solutions. However, the organization of narrative therapies would play a key role in assisting these people to overcome the frustrations they may have encountered in their lives, hence, leading to their successful integration back to the mainstream society.
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Padgett D, Hawkins R, Abrams C, Davis A. In their own words: Trauma and substance abuse in the lives of formerly homeless women with serious mental illness. American Journal Of Orthopsychiatry.
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