Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Connectedness and Health

When you are homeless [at the bottom of society; the least and the last and made to know that you are], there is little to hang onto. What there should be, and usually is, is support from others in the same circumstance. Basically, what you should have are friends, to keep your spirits up and help guide your way.

Certainly, when I was laid low, kicked in the teeth, massively robbed and met with homelessness, the friendships I have made with 'the guys' have been all-saving. I am grateful, humbled, unworthy, and all that.  Most of 'the guys' (and gals, thought they are here in much-diminished number) are tremendous good good people.

God knows, what the government [Fed, state, county & city] provides has been a run-around nightmare most of the time, (bless their rocky, bureaucratic hearts). The homeless-services nonprofits can be giving or stinting or psychotic. The citizenry in Sacramento can be amazing, [Sacramentans, truly, are Saints!] except when, some of them, write hateful comments to newspaper articles about homeless people, using well-worn stereotypes from the 50s [i.e., "those lazy drunken bums!"].

Yesterday, an item in this month's Berkeley Wellness Letter got my attention [emphases, mine].
Unless you’re a misanthrope, you know the value of friends, family, and other social relations. Not only do they add immensely to your quality of life, research has shown that they also tend to add years to your life. This was clearly seen in a recent review, which looked at 148 studies involving more than 300,000 people. It linked stronger social relationships with a 50% increased chance of survival, on average, over the course of the studies. And the effect was consistent across a number of factors, such as age, sex, and health status.

Most health organizations don't recognize lack of social relations as a risk factor for mortality.  For one thing, the term is seen as fuzzy — there are many different kinds of relationships and social networks, and they aren't always good.  Moreover, it's not clear how social relations affect health.  One theory is that social support "buffers" against stress — that is, provides emotional and tangible resources to help us deal with adverse events and illness, according to the Brigham Young researchers.  Family and friends may also encourage us, directly or indirectly, to take better care of ourselves.  And being part of a social network often gives us meaningful roles that boost self-esteem and purpose of life which in turn can improve health.  "We take relationships for granted — we're like fish that don't notice the water," said Timothy Smith, one of the researchers.
Hooray, that in mild Sacramento, the homeless community has a lot of friendliness going on.  In that respect, the Sacramento metropolis' homeless community is top-of-the-heap, whipping the socks off any other US metropolis!  You rule, Sacramento homeless community!  Huzzah!  Take THAT L.A.!  Take THAT, San Antonio!

BUT, most of the guys, out here, view masculinity in rather terrible, old-fashioned — and, yeah, prison-based — ways: You gotta get your respect; if you get dissed, respond with your fists!

And, indeed, there are fights that happen, and, much more often, fights that almost happen. So, "friendship" sounds all weak-kneed and girlie! And so it does to me, also, (thought absolutely nobody fears my fists, nor should they).

But I do think that the social interplay that there is is saving for us all, in whatever way each of us tease and listen and communicate with others "out here."

But you cannot help noticing that many guys get ostracized because their behavior is unusual.  In this way, the homeless community is like a junior-high school.

Some guys are outliers.  Because of mental illness.  Because they are very evidently gay.  Because they respond in odd ways, when they are addressed.  Because their emotions are inappropriate.  Often you don't know what it is; some guys just can't seem to fit in.  And others, very normal-seeming fellows, just seem to have chosen to always be by themselves.

It should concern us — what happens to these outliers: What their experience of the homeless life is and what affect that has.  We should all broaden our scope of compassion, being friendly to everyone for the benefit of THEM and US.

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