Rob!n is a homeless person who sleeps in our beautiful north country sometimes. He also shared he was adopted, his old name was “jeff” and for a time this morning, it truly didn’t matter what Rob!n’s name is because he is a friend.
Though we’ve haven’t talked much over the years, Rob!n and I have shared a connection many times before. Just between you and me, often I share my food with Rob!n and people like him. I check in on him, then ask if he is feeling comfortable when he bunks in the doorway of a neighborhood shop.
Today, during a more substantial conversation than usual, Rob!n shared that he needs medication and I also learned he could use a pair of size 11 shoes. I have more than enough to buy Rob!n a pair of shoes and help with his meds today, so I did. I can’t help everyday, but today I can.
Rob!n also shared that all his bank accounts have been unified and that he is in contact with the secret service. While I’m not really sure what that all means, if you know someone like Rob!n it was a great story that made me smile to hear. As we walked away, I hugged him, then he kissed me lightly on the cheek and we made plans to meet again later today to spend some time doing art.
Have you talked to someone like Rob!n lately? You might consider it, they are blessings in disguise.
How to Help a Rob!n…
It’s common in our culture to operate under the assumption that most people without homes suffer from schizophrenia, addiction, or have otherwise created their own problems. However, statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless confirm that only about 16 percent of the homeless community suffers from addiction. The major contributing factors to homelessness include:
- home loss,
- systemic poverty,
- lack of affordable housing,
- and a decline in public assistance programs.
Additional factors might also include violence, illness or a lack of affordable health care. If you know someone who is homeless, there is still hope and you can help her or him get back on her feet by:
- Peace~ing the streets
- Sing to the homeless
- Meditate near them @ home + @ work
- Stand together
- Coming from a place of non-judgment
- Finding out what he and/or she needs to feel better
- Providing funding
- Vocational training
- Crisis assistance programs (if wanted)
How 2 Talk 2 a Rob!n
Above all: Be patient!
Take time to listen/talk to the home
less. Illness is not a reason to stop talking to anyone.
Recognize symptoms of schizophrenia and do some research. Some signs are more noticeable than others, and by getting a sense of even the symptoms you don’t observe, you will have a better sense of what the person you are talking to may be going through.
Do not assume you are dealing with a person with schizophrenia. Even if the person displays symptoms of schizophrenia, don’t automatically assume schizophrenia. You definitely don’t want to get it wrong by deciding the individual has or does not have schizophrenia.
- If you are unsure, try to ask friends and family of the individual in question.
- Do so tactfully, by saying something like “I want to make sure I don’t say the wrong thing or do something wrong, so I wanted to ask: does X have a mental disorder, perhaps schizophrenia? So sorry if I’m wrong, it’s just that I see some of the symptoms and still wish to treat him/her respectfully.”
Take an empathic perspective. Once you have learned about the symptoms of schizophrenia, do your best to step into the shoes of the individual suffering from this debilitating disorder. Taking the person’s perspective, by empathy or cognitive empathy, is a key factor in successful relationships because it helps one to be less judgmental, more patient, and allows a better sense of the other person’s needs.
- Although it may be difficult to imagine some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, you can still imagine what it is like to be out of control of your own mind and possibly to not be aware of this loss of control or to not fully grasp the real situation.
Speak to the individual the way you would to anyone else, making allowances for anything unusual that is said. Remember that s/he may hear noises or voices in the background while you are talking, making it difficult to understand you. It is therefore essential that you talk clearly, calmly, and rather quietly, as his nerves may be frazzled from hearing voices. These voices may be criticizing him as you talk, be patient and if the person trusts you, hold their hand through the voices.
Be aware of delusions. Delusions occur in as many as four out of five people with schizophrenia, so be aware that the person may experience these while you are talking. These may be delusions that you or some outside entity such as the CIA or a neighbor is controlling his/her mind, or viewing you as an angel of the Lord, or anything else, really.
- Get a sense of the specific delusions so you know what information to filter through in the conversation.
- Keep possible grandiosity in mind. Remember that you are talking to someone who may think as if a famous person, authority or ascended beyond the realm of ordinary logic.
- Try to be as agreeable as possible while talking. Don’t be overly flowery or flattering with many compliments, though.
Never speak as if the person isn’t there or gossip with your friend about how crazy that person was later. Don’t exclude him/her from future/present/past conversations, even if there is an ongoing delusion or hallucination. Typically there will still be a sense of what is going on; that includes being hurt by your talking as though the person is not around. If you need to talk to someone else about him/her, say it in a way that you are sure the “homeless” person wouldn’t mind hearing if he or she was in the room.
Check with other people who know this person. You may learn a lot about how best to talk to this particular person by asking the friends and family or (if applicable) care-taker. There are a number of questions you might want to ask these people, such as:
- Is there a history of hostility?
- Has there ever been violence mentally, verbally or even physically, including any arrest(s) or supplemental medication(s) they might be taking to induce the illness?
Have a back-up plan. Know how you will leave the room, if the conversation goes badly or if you feel that your safety is threatened.
- Do your best to think ahead of time about how you’ll calmly reassure and gently talk the person out of anger or paranoia. Maybe there is something you can do to make the person feel at ease. If, for instance, he/she feels the government is spying on him/her, offer to cover the windows with aluminum foil to be safe and protected from any scanning/spying devices.
Be prepared to accept unusual things. Keep an even keel and don’t react. A person with schizophrenia will likely behave and speak differently than someone without the disorder. Don’t laugh at, mock or make fun of any faulty reasoning or logic. If you feel reasonably threatened or in imminent harm, as if threats might be carried out, call the police, but stay there as interactions with the police have too frequently resulted in the death of the patient at the hands of the police.
- If you imagine what it must be like to live with such a problematic disorder, you will realize the gravity of the situation and that such problems are nothing to mock.
Understand continued use of alternative therapies or medication. You don’t have to participate in what is medically right for another, simple as that.
Avoid feeding their delusions about “you”. If s:he becomes paranoid and mentions that you are plotting against him and/or her, avoid talking to yourself, including making cell phone calls around that person and/or offering too much bold eye contact, as this might increase the paranoia.
Above all: Be patient.
That’s it for now on how to help the homeless. My guess is that if you spend some time with a Rob!n, you’ll find you are being helped a lot in return too.
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