Opinion: Loving parents may prevent homelessness

David Heitz

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I was wondering the other day if good parenting could prevent homelessness. I began to think about why others and I became homeless. I wondered if my parents could have brought me up in a way that would have prevented it.

I grew up in a violent home. Dysfunction prevailed most of the time.

The environment was very traumatic. I believe it has everything to do with the fact that today I have a difficult time trusting anyone.

This lack of trust directly led to my living on the street. I had no one to call for help; both my parents were dead. I thought everyone else I knew was in on a plan to conspire against me. While this belief stemmed partly from untreated mental illness, the childhood trauma left me unable to ask for help.

Teaching your children that people are good and showing them what kindness looks like is important. Violent homes scare kids.

I reconnected with an estranged friend recently, although only for a moment. She told me it’s no wonder I became homeless “because my parents were so messed up.” This made me angry, but she’s right. As I spiraled into the abyss due to mental illness, I would not call a friend, talk to my relatives, or even cooperate with some homeless services providers. I trusted no one and it led to extreme isolation on the street.

Parents need to talk openly with their children and at a young age about mental health and substance abuse. Children need to understand the dangers of addiction and how it can lead to homelessness. They also need to know there is nothing to be ashamed of. So many on the street refuse to accept that the voices they hear aren’t real, for example. One wonders how people struggling with mental illness who were taught to hide their feelings ever get help. Many don’t.

Parents need to teach their children that friendships and relationships are important. Children must learn how to socialize and get along with others. They must learn compassion and understanding. This is especially true as It pertains to homeless people. If you teach your child that homelessness is a moral failing, heaven forbid it ever happens to them. Many people who become homeless loathe themselves because their families have disowned them.

Show your child unconditional love, even if they upset you. Picking arguments with your child turns them away, which is the last thing you want if they are teetering on homelessness. I remember one guy who lived in my encampment who obviously came from a good family. His mother would come to the encampment every so often and ask if he needed anything and sometimes take him to dinner. She never stopped showing her son that she cared about him. I don’t know what happened to this guy or if he ever got off the street. But I remember thinking it was remarkable how his mother stuck by him, even after he spray-painted his Mini Cooper.

Teach your children to believe in themselves. Once a person becomes homeless, their self-esteem takes a beating. Then depression becomes paralyzing, and the homeless person begins to feel stuck. Teach your children that they can handle whatever life throws at them. Try to set an example by demonstrating resilience and a fighting spirit in your own life.

Speak honestly and openly about homelessness. Chat up your child when you experience a homeless person on the street. Ask them why they think people become homeless, and what living on the street must be like. Speak openly and without judgement.

Show your child the value of the dollar. Teach them why money is important. Explain how people don't become homeless if they save for emergencies. I thought money grew on trees. I still don't appreciate the value of the dollar.

The bottom line is if you raise a child who can adapt to crisis, he likely will find survive if the going gets rough. The last thing you want when you become homeless is to give up. Raise a child who never gives up.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at NewsBreakDave@gmail.com

Denver, CO
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