For most homeless people, rest is a luxury. When people are unsheltered, they don’t have a home within which to retreat for rest and relaxation. Often they are challenged to get the full amount of rest and sleep that human beings need to function effectively in the world.
Further, each day many homeless people are busy with a host of activities, including locating work opportunities, going to government agencies, arriving at health appointments, attending food services, discovering shower facilities and finding rest rooms. The time involved in accomplishing each of these activities depend upon their availability and their proximity to homeless people.
Then, there is the practical issue of keeping track of time: how do homeless people keep track of their appointments, the time of day, the day of the week?
And how do people with limited or no access to communication devices such as phones or email services, make or confirm appointments?
Getting from the location of one activity to another can also be problematic for homeless people. There is limited public transportation and bus service can be infrequent. If a bus is late, an appointment may be missed thereby compounding the schedule of activities for another time.
Whenever meals are missed, homeless people may suffer hunger and may experience physical weaknesses that may lead to an inability to function well.
I asked some homeless people for their comments about rest and relaxation. I am very grateful to them for their comments that follow.
“I can’t relax because I’m too worried about whether my wheelchair will be stolen or whether I’ll be molested or raped at night.
“I have to watch my people, no matter the race.
“Why am I homeless? I’m on a waiting list [for the shelter]. Shouldn’t there be housing provided for people released from prison? With all the empty dwellings, why isn’t there housing for homeless people?
What oppresses us so much is the economy, the war, the lack of jobs, so many cars and taxation on everything. Have we cleaned up our own backyard in the world? This struggle has been going on for all time.”
“If I get a chance to relax, I do; otherwise I’m busy.”
– Anonymous Woman
“For homeless people, rest and relaxation is like oil and water. They don’t mix.
“When you’re homeless, everything you own is in a shopping cart. You can’t go anywhere because you’re busy protecting your things. Sometimes, the police come by, take the shopping cart and destroy your things.
“You spend all day packing and unpacking your things, walking for food, walking for a shower, and walking… You can’t look for work without a shower. By the end of the day, you’re exhausted.
“There is lots of emotional stress and pain. Then, you want to kill the pain with alcohol or drugs… to get a shot and go to sleep. But you’re homeless; there is no place to rest your head.
“Twenty-four seven there is hardly any chance to survive. [Due to all they have to do to try to survive] homeless people live two days in one day. That’s a lot of stress. Rest and relaxation is not an option.”
– Edward and Sonny
“We’re not relaxed. We’re feeling oppressed with the government, with our family. We’re in bad spirits. We’re at the bottom of the food chain. We’re basically lost, lost and confused.
“We do want to be good citizens in society. We try to get away from relying on drinking and drugs. St. Vinnie’s (St. Vincent de Paul Village) helps. You can always get a hot shower at St. Vinnie’s.
“I was a welder for twenty years. I got laid off a year and a half ago and I lost everything. The economy brought me to the streets.”
“The police won’t let me lay on the street from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. If you’re walking the streets all day, you get tired. It takes all day to do what you have to do. There’s no time to relax.”
– Anonymous Man
“It’s a cycle. I’m restless and bored so a drink helps me get through the day. As soon as I get into a shelter, I’ll get into a [detox] program. I gave up crack because it made me forget.
“Using drugs and alcohol saps your initiative. But, when you’re homeless, you need initiative to get a plan to get out of homelessness.”
“It’s hard to relax. I was a migrant farm worker. I was picking avocados and I fell of the ladder. My leg was not broken, but it got hurt. The only time I relaxed was after I worked, and then I rested with the radio. Without a job, I get anxious. If I’m not keeping busy, I can’t relax.”
– Bird Man of Alcatraz