We heal in community, not in isolation.

One of the most important things I have learned working with homeless people is the importance of community, not just any community, but a safe community. A place you feel like you belong, where you don’t need to perform but just be, with all your flaws, without the need to suppress your feelings and your voice when you’re hurting. 

Isolation is never the answer when you are hurting, community is. It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are. We need others to heal. Like a seed needs soil to grow, so do we need a community to grow. I know it can be scary when you’re hurting but that fear can only be overcome in the community. That’s where courage is born.

For a very long time I tried to run away from this truth, I tried to hide and deal with my pain alone but I realised we were made from relationship for relationships. We’re made different because we need each other to heal. The enemy’s plan is to isolate and conquer. God’s plan is to unite and conquer. No lion can kill a buffalo in a community. Where there is community there is strength.

Our physical, emotional and spiritual health and longevity are greatly impacted by social connectedness; research has shown that social isolation may significantly increase a person’s chances of early death while strong social connection can lead to a 50% increased chance of longevity. If you don’t believe this, talk with a homeless person, go to prison and visit old age homes and you will see how deadly isolation is. Like someone said, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety but human connection.” 

The truth, is you cannot heal yourself. You cannot heal anybody else, we’re designed to do this in community because we were created inside community for community by community. If you are hurt in a community, it’s going to take a community to heal you. Anything that promotes a sense of isolation often leads to illness and suffering, while that which promotes a sense of love and intimacy, connection and community, is healing. 

Most of our friends on the street long for community. As long as we treat them like they are aliens, healing for them is just a dream. They’re not looking for a shelter, they are looking for a community; where they feel loved and treated with dignity. Just as we cannot become enlightened alone, we cannot heal alone. We are meant to heal in community.  Our need for one another is both our greatest vulnerability and our greatest strength. 

You see, when we serve each other in community we are released from “the prison of self” and realise that our own problems aren’t that bad. I truly believe that the only way to solve homelessness is through community, not isolation. We need to see homeless people as our neighbours, not as aliens that need to be imprisoned and punished for being poor. As human beings, we’re all connected. When one of us is hurting all of us should be hurting. Homelessness is not an individual’s problem, it’s a community problem. If we don’t deal with it as a community, we will never solve it. 

What I have discovered is that community is important for the homeless community. Mother Theresa said. “the greatest poverty is not being homeless but feeling unwanted” and that’s very true. More than food, clothes or shelter, most of the people experiencing homelessness crave for acceptance, for love, for connection, the absence of that leads to drug addiction. They don’t need a drug, they need a hug. They’re not on the street because they don’t have a house to go to but because love was no longer served at the table. 

I hope one day we will all realise that no one is self-sufficient, we need each other to heal, we will wake up to the spirit of Ubuntu and truly know that I am because we are. 

Let’s heal our community, TOGETHER.

Phinius Sebatsane