December 8, 2009

Finding self-worth in the face of homelessness and hunger

[Louise Thundercloud is a familiar face here at Bread for the City, and an active community member engaged in various efforts for progressive change. Louise submitted this post to the DC Food For All, and we're pleased to cross-post it here. —ed]

As the definition of what constitutes a homeless person evolves and changes—widening to include those who house-sit, those who live in friends’ spare rooms, or basements, or cars, or hotels, etc – I think solutions to some of the very nasty by-products of homelessness need to be found.

The most odious problem is hunger – more importantly, hunger that limits the scope of your choices of what to eat. This issue is related to the problem of very low self esteem: feeling as though you deserve only what is given to you, because you feel so terrible about yourself. I am referring to the lack of empowerment felt by most homeless people, & it compounds when someone had very low self esteem prior to becoming homeless. via SamPac on Flickr

When I began my climb out of being homeless, I began to get very angry at my lack of control over the more basic things, what I ate. I began to refuse to eat, preferring to sleep away hunger.

Hunger is the manifestation that accompanies having no job, and being completely dependent on others for food. What if the homeless had other choices, which include fresh organic vegetable or fruits, that they can earn in exchange for volunteering their time at a health food store or urban garden?

Someone told me about a food co-op which would allow me to volunteer & use my volunteer hours to purchase organic fresh foods. On my first shift I felt myself feeling more capable & less at the mercy of others. I had choices & my work gave me those choices.

Fortunately for me, I did not become homeless with a lot of the baggage many do, I didn’t have completely crushed self-esteem, just interrupted self-worth.

Homelessness strips you bare of your humanity. You feel like scum. You often look like scum, & people generally either do not notice you, or they do with malice & disgust. Negativity is very easily absorbed & once it has been absorbed, it is very hard to shake, especially when you are homeless.

So here’s my question: since low self-esteem leads to repeat homeless, shouldn’t self-esteem building be offered more often to end the cycle of homeless? Where food is concerned, couldn’t more opportunities be aimed directly at the homeless community in the form of shift work, enabling the person to earn groceries they want & are able to fix themselves, thereby providing an avenue for empowerment?

Having worked several times as a volunteer at a health food store, I know how busy things get. Having more able bodied volunteers would enable to permanent staff more time to take care of their customers. Also shift work allowed me to learn about different movements: human rights, environmental, peace movements. Other kinds of connections can be made, as well as other solutions can be found for ending some very perplexing problems. Perhaps ending homelessness could be one of them.

The homeless can play a large role in addressing hunger in the homeless community, & open a dialogue on how homeless people can play a large part in ending the cycle of homeless & low self –esteem in their community.

Isn’t it empowering to feed oneself what one wants, instead of having to eat what is put in front of you, particularly food that you really don’t want to eat? I know that having that choice put self-determination & empowerment in my hands.

Louise Thundercloud
Homeless 1991-1993

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