Mark: “Well, if you had three wishes, what would they be?”
Paul: “House. Job. Baby.”
Watch a few of Mark Horvath’s "Invisible People" video interviews with couples and it immediately becomes clear: Couples experiencing homelessness have a similar desire for intimacy as couples who aren’t homeless. Not just physical intimacy, but emotional intimacy, a sense of closeness and emotional warmth. But so many of the ways that we build intimacy aren’t accessible while homeless. There is no kitchen in which to cook for one another, no TV to cuddle in front of, and no place to come home to together.
An interview with Katie and Paul reveals that the couple met when they were both already living on the street in London. Like many young folks experiencing homelessness, they were not in school and could not secure employment. They built intimacy by spending all of their time together, searching for resources, panhandling, and just waiting for tomorrow. One might suggest that these relationships are dangerous, that the young people glamorize homelessness and that getting into relationships will just perpetuate the situation. There is some truth to this claim, as couples have more difficulty getting off the street because they often disregard housing options that won’t allow them to stay together. But dating while living on the street can also have a positive impact. For Katie, homelessness and her relationship with Paul contributed to her sobriety.
Others, like Edward and Anita, were married for twenty-two years before they became homeless. It appears that their strong foundation is what carries them through episodes of homelessness.
And then there are Maria and Neville:
Maria: “[I’d wish for] a cheap little car so I can get around, and a wheelchair. Actually, a wheelchair is my priority.”
Neville: “And each other.”
Maria: “And each other. We’ve been married for four months, been together for five years. And I’ve never been happier in the sense of a relationship.”
Even with the stressors of being homeless together, these people value their relationships and work hard to maintain them. Their relationships remind them that they are valuable and worthy. They are important in at least one other person’s life.
When night falls, these three couples can be found “sleeping rough,” or on the street. Some of the reasons they do this are the same reasons that single people avoid shelters: theft, violence, and strict rules. But couples also sleep outside because most shelters can’t accommodate couples, even same-sex couples, in the same sleeping quarters.
Sleeping rough may be a way to hang on to a sense of normalcy. Regardless of whether or not they are physically intimate during this time together, it gives them the opportunity to build emotional intimacy. And as they close their eyes and drift off into sleep, they can almost believe that they are holding one another in bed in their own home. And that the light from the stars and the streetlights is filtering in through the windows, rather than directly down on them from above.
This article was originally published at a Voices from the Field blog post to highlight the theme of Minority Behavioral Health Issues. Find the latest SAMHSA Blog posts about behavioral health and homelessness.
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