In 2010, 20 clients from Haven Toronto voluntarily participated in a half hour in person qualitative interview with a social worker to explore how grief and loss has factored into the experiences of homelessness.
Before this study, little research exits on how grief and loss contributes to the homelessness of older male adults.
Loss knows no bounds, crossing races, gender, socioeconomic status and class. At some point in time, everyone encounters a form of grief and loss. Grief is the response to loss and often significantly impacts an individual’s life just as much as the death of a significant other.
Grief can also result from the loss of a job, property, income, home and the ending of a relationship. For others, the loss of role, identity, independence, freedom, safety and religious beliefs can be difficult to process and work through.
Although 15% did not report any significant impact from losses experienced, 85% of the members of Haven Toronto felt significantly impacted by their experiences of loss. Common experiences of a death of a parent, divorce or separation, loss of job or injury on a job were reported by many of the members. Many attributed their sense of failure to the failure of their marriages. Some reported the loss of their career and income as a contributing factor to the breakdown of their marriages. Grief and loss can often be the impetus for positive change and growth.
For some of our members, they accepted their experiences of loss as a natural part of the life cycle. Some viewed it as a chance to rebuild their lives, viewing acceptance of their life events as more important than dwelling on it. Some reported that believing in oneself helped them to persevere and empower them to move on. Conversely, others found it very difficult and may have experienced prolonged grief reactions.
Some of these members reported that such negative life events had “taken away their only purpose”, leaving them without a meaningful life. Some indicated that constantly rebuilding their lives was tiresome, while others found themselves reminiscing about what could have been.
Although all of the members interviewed had established careers and were successful before the onset of their homelessness, many were left afterwards trying to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. The members of The Good Neighbours Club reported careers in financial services, the trades, entrepreneur, air force, post office, corrections, truck driving, culinary arts, interior decorating and song writing.
The life lessons suggested by the members of Haven Toronto seem to resonate with many of their life’s experiences. For some, the growth and positive outlook despite the tragedies faced throughout their lives speaks to their innate resilience. Yet for others, the unspeakable events they endured have left them with significant emotional scars and despite this they manage to muster up enough inner strength to continue on each day.
As expected, many interviewees suggested that housing and financial resources would significantly improve their current life situation.
The members’ interviewed describes Haven Toronto as a family. They see it as helpful, a place to go, like ‘heaven’ and a good stepping stone. They feel it provides them with a meaning and purpose as well as an opportunity to get away from the unfortunate situations in the local shelters.
Grief and loss was reported to significantly impact the majority of men who were interviewed for this study and it appears as though many older adults who have become homeless later on in their lives experienced significant losses throughout their lives.
This coupled with insecure finances and employment and other ongoing issues have led them into a cycle of homelessness and poverty which has been difficult to both navigate through and successfully overcome.
Note: Due to the small sample size and subjective nature of this study, the results can not be confirmed. The use of open ended questions leaves room for interpretation by the researcher, effectively limiting its validity and reliability. Since this study lacks statistical significance it is therefore not representative. This study only interviewed men over the age of 50, future research should look into the role that gender plays in homelessness for all older adults.
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