Who Hugs the Homeless?

Or the jobless, for that matter?  I think the most emotionally debilitating part of this situation has been the isolation it has created.  My interactions with other adult humans are pretty much limited to brief chit chat with the checkout clerk at the grocery store, a comment exchanged with another parent while we await the dismissal bell, and two minutes of conversation with my daughter’s basketball coach at the end of practice.

The kids are less affected as they continue to attend school, have play dates and are involved in activities like basketball, choir and the school play.   But my social circle, small to begin with due to our moving around and unconventional lifestyle (being a single mom to four by choice, a rare thing, even rarer in professional circles), has essentially disappeared. You don’t realized just how important work is for social interactions until you no longer have a job.  As blogger Joe Malik, in “Unemployed in Tacoma” remarks with a measure of humor:

“Until I was summarily booted out of the place, I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend on my workplace for social connections. And that’s the really pathetic part, because most of the people I worked with were generally annoying, or downright despicable human beings.

So why do I miss some of them so much?

Well, the people you work with – whether you like it or not – are kind of like your surrogate family. You see them every day. You know about what goes on in their personal lives… most of all, the workplace seems to be one of the few places that many of us have a chance to make any sort of deep, personal connection with people.”

It is sad how that ‘deep, personal connection’ turns out to be the most superficial of connections once it’s severed. Former colleagues (one of whom recently characterized my blog as a “depressing website” in an email to another former colleague) are the first to disappear off your social landscape. Another place for making those connections is church, but since we left our church (in response to what I considered an unfortunate change in leadership) shortly before becoming unemployed and homeless we discovered those ‘friendships’ to be similarly superficial.  As I’ve remarked before group membership (even unofficial) is what counts.  When you are out, you are really out!

What about friends and family, you ask?  Friends, and family, while initially concerned, seem to grow increasingly uncomfortable with and tired of your unemployed/homeless status the longer it lingers on.  Compassion fatigue settles in. Your status overshadows everything, and while you are both bored with the subject, like an elephant in the room, it cannot be avoided.  So instead they avoid you.  New acquaintances are both curious and repelled by your situation – offering generic words of comfort while withdrawing from interactions with you the way one might do with someone infected with a peculiarly grotesque and contagious disease.  They marvel, “How do you manage?” while backing away. Who invites a leper out for drinks?

Even social networking falls by the wayside as your experience begins to vary substantially from your connections on LinkedIn, your ‘friends’ on Facebook, and the members of all those yahoo groups to which you belong.  It becomes harder for you to relate to their lives and events which begin to seem increasingly complacent and superficial to you, while your struggle with very essential, bottom-line issues is foreign and discomfiting to them. BTW- along this line I plan to start a 2nd blog for single parents in this situation in which there can be multiple authors and points of view, support and resource exchange.  I guess if you lose your group memberships you need to find, or start, new groups!

It’s odd the way this isolation makes itself felt at times.  For instance, most recently, the kids’ school was having one of those jog-a-thon fundraisers to fund future fieldtrips and each family was supposed to find sufficient sponsors to raise $150 per child.  Where do you turn, school fundraiser, or Scout cookie or nut sales, in hand?  To your colleagues, friends, members of your church and the other organizations to which you belong.  And although so starved for conversation that I’ve frequently engaged the checkout clerk in lengthy exchanges to the despair of the people in line behind me, I haven’t been able to bring myself to solicit jog-a-thon sponsorships from complete strangers! 

I’m not the only unemployed person to feel this sense of isolation.  In “The Lonesome City Blues,” Pulitzer Prize winner and former LA Times columnist, Al Martinez, blogs about the loneliness of being unemployed; saying of the jobless, “We occupy a landscape of spiritual desolation.”

Among the unemployed, blog after blog is filled with tales of isolation and loneliness, with the feeling of being cut off from the world around us.  Some people struggle with depression, others tell of the loss of hope, and anxiety about the future.

And a column in USA Today, titled, How Joblessness Hurts Us All, states the following:

“Recent studies confirm the results of research during the Great Depression — unemployment badly frays a person’s ties with his community, sometimes permanently. After careful analysis of 20 years of monthly surveys tracking Americans’ social and political habits, our colleague Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin has found that unemployed Americans are significantly less involved in their communities than their employed demographic twins. The jobless are less likely to vote, petition, march, write letters to editors, or even volunteer. They attend fewer meetings and serve less frequently as leaders in local organizations. Moreover, sociologist Cristobal Young’s research finds that the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone.  

Moreover, beyond civic disengagement, places with higher joblessness have more pervasive violence and crimes against property. They have more fragile families with harsher parenting, and higher rates of mental disorder and psychological distress among both the unemployed and the employed. These social consequences are a powerful aftershock to communities already reeling economically.”

Our social landscape is changing, shifting and cracking, in ways the still gainfully employed and big financial institutions may not initially notice but will surely feel in the future.

This entry was posted in homelessness, job search, recession, unemployment and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Who Hugs the Homeless?

  1. wicked_wisdom says:

    Have you considered working for the Census? In the small community I live in, I can set my own hours and get paid to walk around and talk to people.

    Its not hard work. I’m just verifying addresses and giving out questionnaires.

    I know it doesn’t take the place of having friends, but for me, its time to have some conversation with people other than family members or senior citizens.

  2. dP says:

    No advice to give you….. just a big >>Hug<<

    I've only recently discovered your blog after it's mention on WP but am touched and enlightened. Thank you and best of luck. We are hoping and praying for you.

  3. mbgith says:

    Lots of advice from others in these comments, but I suspect you really just need to hear that there are people here who are ready and willing and happy to hear your story. And to the degree we can, connect with you as another, fellow human being. Thank you for being so open and honest.

  4. Della says:

    Your title really caught my eye, since I’ve thought about that a lot. I can relate to this post for different reasons than most. I have a chronic pain condition that has turned my life into a desert. I find that though my family has not entirely deserted me, many of them have decided that it’s time for “tough love” to fix me and make me normal again. Ohh, they say it differently, but I believe that is the intent. None of them would say “I think she’ll be fine if she just pulls herself together,” but all their actions say that. I thank God I’m not on the streets at least, yet. I’ve found people online who have this disease (RSD) and who actually understand. This has only happened in the last 3 or 4 days, and I’m still afraid to really believe there is understanding there. Thanks for speaking from your heart.

  5. Dina says:

    I have this theory that most of the people in one’s life will be really understanding of a problem, any problem, for about 2 weeks. Your husband left you? You got laid off from your job? Had a miscarriage? Your father died? You’ll get dinners brought to you, emails, and sympathetic phone calls from friends and coworkers for about two weeks. Then, you are expected to have gotten over it- to go back to being the same person you were before whatever bad thing happened, to have fixed your situation and moved on from your problems. If you can’t manage this feat, almost all of those friends will start to pull away. I think the results are pretty devastating- just when you need your alleged support system most, you have to worry all the time about being “fun” enough, “ok” enough, and “over it” enough with people you thought were your friends.

  6. Little House says:

    I think volunteering at your children’s school is a good first step. You can begin making connections with other parents, it may be difficult at first, but you might find it helpful. It also wouldn’t cost you anything. Most schools need parent volunteers and I’m sure they would more than happy to accept your help. Because of your education, you might even find that they offer you a position. Teaching can be very fulfilling. Good luck!

  7. Jenn W says:

    I instantly recognized this feeling of disconnectedness you describe. I left a job suddenly and unplanned, when I had a daughter born with brain damage. I no longer had income, peers, and friends with whom my daily life had anything in common. Add to that stress, financial difficulty and I experienced a small portion of what you’ve been living with.
    What helped me? Exactly what you posited: I had to create new peer groups. And I had to be assertive about it. I had to ask therapists and doctors if they had other patients in my situation and would they please pass on my contact info. Approach people at the park or library and strike up conversations. It took several years to build a little support group of 4-5 people that became my social world.

    One suggestion I have is that you seriously consider volunteering in your children’s school. Go talk to the principal. Explain that you need to be useful, even in some small way. Offer to come and walk classes from the classroom to the gym, or music or library or art rooms. Offer to assist in the special ed classes. Be an extra pair of hands in the lunchroom. Even an hour a day, three days a week, will give structure to your days. The children will give you perspective and love. And schools are one of the few places that still have jobs. It may take a year or two, but eventually someone gets married, relocates, retires, and there’s an administrative position open, or a part time tutoring job, or something. It may not be what you WANT to do, but it could be a source of income more reliable than ebay. And because you have been reliable, present and useful, you’re at the top of the list of candidates. So by committing to just three hours a week out of your life, you may be setting up a new network of colleagues, making connections that could lead to real work, and providing yourself a source of support.
    Good luck to you. Keep writing, this is a valuable archive. I’ll be reading!

  8. morrison says:

    get out and join a church! i don’t care what, if or not any religion you are. they’re free! have tons of caring people and have many, many FREE social events. look in the phone book and call one near you. go to a church while your kids are at school. bring your kids with you for a sunday service.

    you are not alone. there are many, many people like you.

    if you won’t go then at least call The 700 Club (CBN) 1-800-759-0700)





  9. Sam says:

    While meetup is a good resource – what I’ve run into in my region is many of the groups charge a fee for their meetings or have some kind of marketing angle rather then just a general interest. I’ve seen at least three single parents put ads in the personal-platonic section of Craigs list looking for not-romantic friends. that might be an idea…

    I’ve been homeless & unemployed with my kid and I remember how horrible it was – only one of my friends stuck through. The rest disappeared with six months…. they don’t understand that you just can’t “BAM” fix it.
    My co-workers are a good chunk of my social life now – they are better then most I’ve had in the past but it’s hard to meet new people when you have a kid. I’ve been contemplating putting an ad on Criagslist myself – I need to get out & be around adult humans.

    I was laid off three years ago – we were two weeks from becoming homeless again when I finally landed a job. I lost all but two friends that time. I’m still recovering from that too & being strapped seems to create isolation – it takes time to get all the financial stuff caught up. I grow apart from freinds because I can’t afford to go to XYZ concert or event with them.
    My brother(and my Mom-to a lesser extent) thinks I’m a loser for still being on a strapped budget but yet, won’t help with anything – I have to hire a second set of hands when I need it to fix something because my brother just won’t even help by holding a wrench while I crank with another tool. Yes, that means there’s a lot of broken stuff around my house. So isolation is created there too.
    The human dynamic is weird & lonely now a days. I thin too much is hinged on money rather then who a person is.

    While not exact, I have a good idea of where your coming from & my heart goes out to you. If I was in California I’d go get a drink with ya!
    The single parent blog sounds like a very good idea too – I’ll keep an eye out for it.
    Not to be weird, but if you ever need to vent please feel free to drop me an email.

  10. I had a friend that very much experienced this. She was stuck in the cycle of applying for jobs during the day and isolation at night because she felt her lack of funds prevented her from going out and meeting others. It is a problem too, especially from the little I’ve read about your situation, not being able to afford a babysitter and even the gas to get to certain locations to meet new people.

    Although my own suggesting things seems trite given my separation from your situation, I did think of using MeetUp, perhaps to even meet others in the area that may be struggling with similar issues. I realize that the things I mention above could cause complications, but perhaps you could make it a play-date for other children of people in the group.

    I wish you all the best.

  11. FrauTech says:

    This may not be possible in your particular area, but have you considered volunteering? Maybe to older people or at a women’s shelter or something. You’re bound to get more social interaction that way.

    I agree people will start to back off and treat you as something “other” very quickly. I think the thing is, when bad stuff happens to other people, usually randomly, we try to find some reason. Like when people get sick you’ll notice other people aren’t sympathetic, instead they are asking what that person did or ate or didn’t do and trying to justify to themselves that they are “safe” from this horrible random event because they did all the “right” things. It doesn’t take much to put us in this “other” category and losing one’s job and being homeless are pretty big things to most people.

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