I tend to be a fairly introspective person. One of the things I’ve been pondering lately is what is the attraction of going on a long-distance hike. I mean, I could have come up with a lot of things to do that don’t involve walking 2184 miles, through 14 states. Not only am I hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I’m using the hike to raise money for my local homeless shelter.
I’ve spent 25 years of my life working with individuals with behavioral disturbances and mental illness. Recently I’ve experienced a sense of powerlessness and helplessness that had not been present for me in my work previously. Many of the people that I’m seeing in my office now are not mentally ill. I’m seeing people who are desperate. People who have worked their entire lives, lost their jobs, and their housing. People who are desperate to get off the street and out of the homeless shelters. Many of them are my age. People who have lost their homes to foreclosure due to the economic downturn. Individuals with who are living in the woods, eating from garbage cans, sleeping at the post office, using public restroom facilities to bathe. Most of these people are not mentally ill; they are victims of circumstances much larger than themselves. There are no psychotropic medications that will help someone find housing. No amount of counseling is going to put a roof over someone’s head. The only thing I can do is refer them to agencies that can provide them services specific to their situation; places like Flagstaff Shelter Services.
When I start looking at the psychology of this, I realize that I am, essentially, choosing to be homeless for the six months of my journey. I will be carrying everything I need on my back. I’ll be cooking outside, sleeping outside, going to the bathroom outside. Life will be distilled down to its essence. I am giving up my housing; when I return, I will be couch surfing with friends until I start working again. I am getting rid of most of my stuff; my possessions will consist of a few boxes stored at a friend’s house. I won’t be working in any formal sort of way (although blogging, in itself, is a form of work). Although I won’t be experiencing the psychological devastation that comes with homelessness; I will experience the physical challenges and hopefully gain a greater appreciation for the struggles that so many homeless individuals experience. Since I cannot help the homeless within the context of my professional capacity, perhaps I can help them with my feet. Please donate to Flagstaff Shelter Services and help keep a roof over someone’s head for one more night.