With the opening of Major League Baseball after a four-month delay, I am reminded that one of the reasons baseball is our national pastime is because the players in the majors make it look so easy. In a way, it is. Anyone with a broomstick and a rubber ball can try their hand at baseball or “stick ball in the street.”
In the years I have been operating emergency homeless shelters, I have found that many folks see dealing with the trauma of homelessness as if it should be as easy as the players in the major leagues make baseball look.
Almost daily, someone will make a comment that “those people” are just lazy, and all they need to do is get a job, or they’re just junkies who should stop using drugs, as if it were as easy as filling out a job application or “just saying no.” No child says I want to suffer from a debilitating mental illness when I grow up or I hope to be addicted to a dangerous drug someday.
Experiencing homelessness is hugely traumatic in and of itself, and it almost always follows other traumas: childhood or spousal abuse; military service in a war zone; untreated mental illness; loss of a job or a loved one; or all of the above. Working with someone who is suffering from trauma, which is often complicated by self-medicating, is anything but easy. It is a highly choreographed dance between the traumatized person and those who are trying to help. If either side has a bad day, the process often starts over at square one.
People suffering from trauma or substance use are often very good at what they do; that is, survival. They have been in survival mode for so long, it is very difficult to get ahead of them, to try and understand the direction they are headed and not fall into the traps they set to reinforce old behaviors, which may be very unhealthy.
The staff, volunteers and partner providers who work best with the guests at the Interfaith Community Shelter might make the job look easy. They remind me of Alex Rodriguez, who made it look easy at shortstop, when it really took years and years of practice and sacrifice. Whether it be playing big-league baseball or dealing with trauma victims, it is all about discipline, hard work, focus, sacrifice and, above all, a genuine love of the game.