Based on my 18 years of experience with the Olympia Gospel Rescue Mission, I have come to regard homelessness as a mind-and-heart issue that leads to a geographical issue that we call homelessness.
Although we occasionally are able to help those who have lived too close to the edge financially and wind up homeless due to the loss of a job or some other financial issue, the primary population that the mission serves are those who have been homeless over six months. Most are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
In this population, I believe that there are three main causes of homelessness:
1. As young children they suffered horrific and prolonged mental and/or physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of those they should have been most able to trust for love and nurturing. By the age of 10, or older, many had retreated into drugs and alcohol to anesthetize the pain, found social relationships with others who had suffered the same conditions, which turned into addictions and life on the street. While they continue to mature physically, their cognitive, emotional and spiritual development is arrested due to the effects of the addiction.
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2. Mental illness that went untreated for lack of insurance and financial resources. In their case, the streets become the clinics and the drug dealers the therapists.
3. Acute mental and/or physical trauma such as an assault, the horrors of war or domestic violence that caused the victim to flee from possible help and wind up on the streets. Again, drugs or alcohol start as an anesthetic, and lead to addiction.
Loren “Skip” Steffen is esecutive director of the Olympia Gospel Rescue Mission. He wrote this description of homelessness for a presentation to the Olympia Rotary Club.