Springs Rescue Mission:

Coming in from the Periphery

Coming in from the Periphery

This is Part 2 of a three part series. I’ve heard a lot of people say “he chooses to be homeless”. I’ve even been told by people who’re on the streets “I like it this way. I don’t have to pay bills.” I don’t believe it.

Do human brains really work like this?

There’s something about the brain that strikes me as a little odd. A human’s brain can create a different reality which may or may not reflect truth. Earlier my friend Joel and I were chatting about neurobiology. I asked about this phenomenon of creating a story and honestly believing it. He knew what I was talking about right away and he suggested I call it a “survival narrative” --the story a brain creates to allow a person to survive a traumatic experience. We chewed on that thought and what it means to guests of the Mission. Doesn’t it make sense that the shame and fear that might come along with losing a place to live would be something that is difficult for a brain to deal with, and so the story “I like to live homeless” becomes the survival narrative?Survival narrative is a part of what enables people to be strong and courageous enough to endure living without a roof, a shower, and a table to share a meal around. It helps them heft their backpack one more time and make the trek for lunch, a place to clean up and a toilet that flushes. It helps them bear the interminable waits for running water, hot food and clothes appropriate for the hot weather. But, those narratives are not necessarily true.

The Common Need

All of the guests of the Resource Advocate Program come to visit because they don’t have housing. None have enough financial resources to rent a place to live, but there are many who have regular income. Some have Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and there are even a few who have Social Security Retirement – those levels of income simply will not purchase housing in Colorado Springs. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (www.nlihc.org) the annual income required to get an apartment is $27,600 in our area. That’s significantly lower than in other areas of the state, but beyond the reach of someone who receives a monthly SSI payment of $733 per month. In a market with very low vacancy rates, those who own property have no reason to take the financial risk on a tenant that would have to expend 90% of their income for an apartment.And, since housing is so scarce and near to impossible to acquire, the survival story of “I really don’t want to live inside” makes a lot of sense.

The Experience at RAP

In spite of survival narratives the helpers at RAP know to dig deeper. They ask enough questions so that people who believe that they don’t want to be inside can contemplate and little-by-little make moves toward permanent and stable housing. The economy, their disabilities, and the supply of available apartments tell our neighbors that a roof is out of their reach. Good advocates bring the strength of relationship and the power of hope into survival narratives opening the door for our friends to be empowered to want housing and move toward it.


Progress on the Periphery

If you’ve had an opportunity to view the Aaron Anderson exhibit, Periphery, at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, you’ve seen the faces of some of our friends who are in the process of learning a new narrative that includes the possibility of a stable place to live. Ten beautiful faces grace the display--ten people with relationships and hope who are being empowered to leave the periphery for a home. As a matter of fact, today six of them are either living in their new apartments or have begun looking for an apartment with their new rental assistance vouchers in hand. What made the difference for these? It’s something as simple as being seen and invited in from the periphery by their advocates.Are you ready to help someone change their survival narrative to one of relationship, hope and empowerment? There are opportunities to do that today at Springs Rescue Mission. Call SRM to discuss the ways you could engage.If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, check it out: http://www.csfineartscenter.org/exhibits/periphery/

Visit springsrescuemission.org/gss to learn more.

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Without a warm and safe place to sleep, many of our homeless neighbors wouldn’t survive on the streets.