The annual census of people experiencing homelessness in our area has just been released, and the numbers are sobering. One cold night in January 2015 there were 243 people who slept outside. 243 people had no roof over their heads in spite of our community’s 200 emergency shelter beds. Every bed was full on that one cold night in January. That same night, a total of over 1000 people reported being homeless in El Paso County – they had no fixed place to live.
For many of you, that begs the question, “Why don’t they just get a job?” A job would change everything. Yes, a good job would change everything, but the journey to a job is a long one with lots of obstacles for my neighbors who are living outside.
You see, to get a job a person needs to be in their right mind. A rational mind that can interact appropriately, that can make sound decisions and that has the ability to learn new skills. The trouble is, finding a rational mind in the homeless camps is a hard thing to do. Survival and crisis activities move the function of the brain literally from the rational part to another part where everything becomes reactive so that they can simply stay alive.
How Survivor Mentality Affects Behavior
There are different theories to the science about how a brain functions, but most experts agree that our brains work very differently in crisis than they do in rational-thought mode. And that “survival mentality” really creates a physical difference in the function of the brain.
Matt Bennett of Coldspring Center writes in a recent blog post:
“Existing in highly stressful or traumatic settings, energy is directed towards survival reactions and not strategic thinking. This furthers the damage that traumatic stress and addiction cause on the biological functioning of the brain.”
In other words, we can get stuck in a crisis thought pattern, not operating under the rational thinking part of our brain. But all is not lost. Bennet goes on to describe the role of the Mentor, who dives into the darkness to help a fellow human emerge into their “right mind.”
A Beacon In the Dark
That is exactly what the Advocates at the Resource Advocate Program do. They dive in, examine and sit with our guests in the midst of their trauma. They counsel and walk the journey with our friends who are living in the crisis of no housing. Willingly. They listen, they begin to understand, they grieve and they help develop a plan for the guest to emerge with right thinking. And sometimes, that journey leads to a fuller life. A sober life, with benefits and housing and possibly even the right job!
This month our friend “RS” got a part-time job and entered a program offered at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center that will further his career skills and education. Thanks to that program, he will be starting college next month. With frequent illness and the frustrations of living on the street, those things were not easy to accomplish. RS would literally have been unable to complete all the steps without the patient assistance of a compassionate Advocate.
Get a job? So much easier said than done when you live outside and your brain is stuck in survival or crisis mode. But the Advocates at RAP understand the challenges and are here to walk with our friends, connecting them to the resources that enable life transformation.
If you’d like to be a part of the team that makes this change possible for our homeless neighbors, please contact the Springs Rescue Mission Volunteer Coordinator and register for our next volunteer orientation.