COMMUNITY IS WHY HOMELESSNESS NO LONGER HAS A HOLD ON MY LIFE
My name is Andrew Lallerstedt. I am the director of the iAM department of Atlanta Dream Center that addresses homelessness and for over 7 years of my life, I was homeless.
Early on, I would have told you that I was homeless because of my substance abuse, but in reality, that is not what had me living on the streets.
The first time I experienced trauma was at the age of 4. From that point on, I think my relationships with God, myself, and others got distorted. I had close family members that were not present when I needed them, I had dyslexia and couldn’t perform in school, and my views of God and religion shifted to reflect my experience not the truth. At some point, I didn’t feel like I could live up to the standards society had placed on me, so homelessness was the next logical step.
WHAT INDIVIDUALS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS REALLY NEED
When I became homeless, housing wasn’t the first thing on my list. I needed to survive, and at this point in my life, survival meant getting what I felt like I never had–the acceptance of others. That was what I was lacking. And now, after living the life I have and being in my current line of work, I can say that this–finding an accepting community–is what is needed first and foremost when tackling homelessness. Most of the trauma I come across in my line of work has a social or community-based root cause.
Every single second of the day I spent on the streets, I desired love, acceptance, worth, and security–all the things that I lacked from the trauma I went through growing up. Atlanta Dream Center’s case management process shows that statistically, 100% of the clients that have participated in our process over the past 5 years have experienced trauma prior to becoming homeless. This aligns with what is true of my own story.
Knowing that, it is important to know that trauma is all-consuming unless dealt with correctly through a supportive community. Those that we encounter through our homelessness services at Atlanta Dream Center identify the root cause of their homelessness as one or more of the following: disability, poverty, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, lack of family support, lack of means to support children, etc. You will notice that there is one common thread–all of these traumatic events stem from or impact the community or social interactions of each individual.
When dealing with homelessness, we build houses thinking that if people have a place to stay, homelessness won’t exist. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for access to more housing, but if community or love is not present first, then many homeless individuals will continue to struggle–finding themselves back where they came from.
For me personally, it wasn’t that I didn’t have a place to fall back on if I cleaned up my act, it was that I never felt like I was accepted in that community.
Building a supportive community around a person that has experienced trauma which was rooted in community will start to transform their hearts. Everything else follows after that. Housing can take anywhere from 6-18 months to get into while community can start being built from the get-go.
HOMELESSNESS IS A STATE OF ISOLATION
Homelessness is a state of isolation–individuals or families are isolated from housing, jobs, food, resources; but it’s the isolation from a healthy community that keeps them homeless. It’s interesting how in the book of Genesis God created all things and said “it was good”, but after creating man he said; “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18 NLT).
A house is not a home without community that loves well.