Redefining Success: Social Connection

 September 9, 2016

Relationships are woven throughout our lives, and they play an important role in homelessness.

Many people who have experienced homelessness say they had no one left to turn to in their time of need. Some burned bridges with those closest to them. The paradox is that homelessness can bring about a sense of isolation, and yet, there is a very strong sense of social connection found there.

“There are strong bonds among people who are experiencing homelessness. They are surviving and need to rely on each other,” explained Johanna, Supportive Housing case manager. “But on the other hand, they are constantly worried about others stealing from them and using them. It’s not always healthy, but they really do take care of each other.”

“I went into savage behavior… I was in survival mode,” said, Adrienne, who was homeless for eight years. “People get aggressive with their territory and belongings.”

When moving into stable housing, many feel freedom in separating themselves from others. “To get my own place allowed me to be away from people and behavior I was susceptible to,” said client Ted.

But others experience an increased sense of isolation once housed. They may even revert back to homelessness because it is the only community they know.

On the journey from surviving to thriving, developing healthy social connection is a big milestone.

We focus on teaching clients about healthy relationships.  Even though they have little, the people we work with are so generous, sometimes to a fault. We have to work on setting boundaries and assessing what relationships are beneficial,” added Johanna.

As individuals utilize Caritas of Austin’s Therapist to work through past trauma and reflect on past or present relationships, many begin to have a desire to rebuild some connections.

While homeless, Adrienne lost touch with her children for years. During her time with Caritas of Austin, she has been able to rebuild those relationships and now talks to her son every Saturday.

Caritas staff members also work hard to develop community among their clients. They hold activities like art club and walking group, host group holiday dinners, and even come together in the saddest of times.

“We hold a memorial for any one of our clients who passes away. To know that they had a place to call home and people who cared about them is such a gift despite sad circumstances. We just had a gentleman who passed away. He had recently reconnected with his daughter after 20 years, and at the memorial service we held for him, his family from all over the country came to celebrate his life. That is incredible,” Johanna said, tearing up.

Whether it’s finding peace in past relationships, developing a new idea of healthy relationships, or finding lifelong friendships, one of the most valuable things Caritas staff can do for people is to help rebuild a support system. After all, the people who love us help sustain all of us through life’s good and difficult times.

Our next and final edition of Redefining Success will focus on wellbeing, what it means and how people get there.