When people think of a vulnerable group, the elderly, migrants, people with mental illness, the LGBT community, etc. come to mind. They are the best-known groups and also the ones with the largest support networks. But what about the homeless? The fact that there are people without a home and without money to cover the basic basket is a big social problem at an international level, although some countries have managed it better than others.
This group has several vulnerabilities, and unfortunately the biggest is invisibility. There is research on the subject but from the negative perspective of the impact they have on the country, but not of the psychological consequences of not having a roof over their heads when they are destitute , nor of the health risks they have, nor of their high probability of developing some mental disorder. We will talk about this briefly in the following lines.
Causes of destitution
The main causes of destitution can be divided into two groups: personal and social, although both are related and ultimately the determinants are social, while the personal is related to the risk of falling into destitution in statistical terms.
On the one hand, we have the neurobiological determinants: propensity to psychopathologies and that these are not treated adequately , and also anxiety and high levels of stress in individuals without support networks.
On the other hand, traumatic experiences , childhood experiences, sexual or physical abuse, conflicts or domestic violence, substance abuse, increase the risk of falling into this situation.
Social exclusion due to belonging to a minority or vulnerable group, or to discrimination on the basis of race, religion or preference, is closely linked to destitution.
On the other hand, the economy is also very relevant: living with low income, instability, and poor family planning due to lack of resources.
Although are not the only elements that contribute to a person becoming destitute , they are risk factors that if you do not have the appropriate support networks or the necessary treatment for certain diseases or psychopathologies, may end up in this situation.
The psychological impact of destitution
As a vulnerable group it is composed of people who belong to other ways of classifying members of society: the elderly, people with alcohol or drug problems, immigrants, people with disabilities (both physical and intellectual), among others. The main vulnerabilities , that at the same time become consequences of this social phenomenon, are the following.
Most of society shows no interest in the homeless in most countries. They are seen, but not taken into account.
2. Propensity for symptoms or development of mental illness
The fact of not having a roof alters their mental capacities, to the point of developing pathologies. The most common within this group are depression and schizophrenia , in addition to alcoholism.
3. Propensity to contract a disease
Homeless people are exposed to any virus or bacteria and to extreme temperatures with no possibility of preventing disease from these agents or situations.
4. High risk of imprisonment
The fact that they do not have a roof means that the homeless are at risk of being apprehended by police forces when carrying out all their activities in public areas, some of which are prohibited.
5. Propensity to use and abuse substances
Not having money for a decent meal , many choose to consume toxic substances to keep themselves free from hunger or in a state of “well-being” even if the situation demands otherwise.
6. Unemployment and limited opportunities to get one
The window of opportunity to get a job is drastically reduced.
7. Lack of formal education and truancy
The fact that the parents are in a street situation is related to a situation of vulnerability of their children , due to the lack of access to formal education.
8. Risk of accidents and premature death
Being exposed to disease increases the possibility of premature death. In addition, not being protected, not having a sense of direction, being alcoholic, drugged or having a mental illness increases the risk of having an accident.
What can we do to help these people?
The work of psychologists, social workers and interested persons is really to reach this group, to detect needs, propose strategies and implement action plans that will enable them to resume a dignified life, get a job and, in case they have any illness, either physical or mental, can be treated. The fact that a person is in a street situation does not mean that their status before society has to be modified; they still have the same rights, and can lead a dignified life with all that this implies.