Education Homelessness Identity Markets

Conceptual Homelessness

In this premiere of our series on homelessness, Sergio Centeno introduces the term Conceptual Homelessness. Sergio, while himself experiencing housing insecurity, has asked us to consider that homelessness is more than living outdoors, but a life under a metaphorical bridge. In many ways, many of us are experiencing this kind of homelessness. This is the first in a series.

In this premiere of our series on homelessness, Sergio Centeno introduces the term Conceptual Homelessness. Sergio, while himself experiencing housing insecurity, has asked us to consider that homelessness is more than living outdoors, but a life under a metaphorical bridge. In many ways, many of us are experiencing this kind of homelessness. This is the first in a series.

Play Episode with Sergio Centeno


Essay Reflection by Martin J. McKinney

MarincrlWhen I was an adolescent, my parents divorced after many years of what had been physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my father; abuse that had been committed against my mom, me and my six siblings and that had endured, in emotional ways, even after my father moved away to a new life with new wives and new realities.

When we reside in insufficiency we  may find that we are far more, despite what we lack

My father had been our family’s main source of financial support and had been a good financial provider. He had become a police officer at a time when Chicagoland police departments were still all-white institutions and were struggling to integrate. We lived in a home that my parents owned and we had food security. My brothers and I played sports and my only sister served as my mom’s deputy, making certain that our rooms were clean and that we made it to school on time. We enjoyed many family pets and had strong friendships with other kids in the neighborhood. We were, from the perspective of the people who lived around us, a typical family.

When my mom summoned the strength to end her marriage to a man whom she had long before realized hated her, she did so recognizing that she was effectively ending the financial security she wanted for herself and her children. To this day, I applaud her for the courage it took to make such a choice. But her choice plunged us, my mom, brothers and sister and me, into an enduring period of conceptual homelessness. These are choices that people must make each day and while these choices are not always around intentional abuse, they are choices that we must make in order to live into emotional peace and tranquility.

My father decided that, despite court orders and a sense of responsibility, he would do as little as possible to provide for his family. He would not pay alimony to my mom and would not even provide support for his children. This resulted in a day-to- day battle for survival. We were never homeless, but we did endure bouts of hunger, periods in the winter without heat and many times we had to share clothes that were so tattered that they were really not fit to wear. As the youngest in my family, imagine the teasing I endured because the clothes and shoes I wore had been passed through at least a few other boys before they found their turn with me.

I connected with Sergio’s story in ways that go beyond the person without a physical place to abide. I felt the turmoil that my family endured even though we had a home. I remembered my mother working long hours, traveling home on public transportation and walking home in the dark of winter nights just to provide for her children. She made the choice to face real and conceptual homelessness for the chance to live into a better life than her husband could provide. As I’ve grown older, I remember the difficulty of college and the inability to simply call home and ask for money. I have connected with Sergio’s experiences of job insecurity and the need to pay for school loans in the face of a boss who hated my existence and still needing to endure. I have never lipeople-690547_960_720ved under a bridge, and still, I have been conceptually homeless.

And there are many of us who experience conceptual homelessness, even when we choose not to acknowledge it. We are homeless and educated; addicted, homeless and cultured; homeless and well-traveled; married and lonely; same-gender loving and unwelcomed and greeted with silence in our families and houses of worship; sexually aware but ashamed; black and brown without being acknowledged as citizens; imprisoned and without family visits. How do we find ourselves in these places of dearth, unable to live into authenticity?

"
I am better living under

the metaphorical bridge

with the other homeless than living in the angst,

and the muck
"

I have often seen people living under the bridge and thought that they seemed to be content living there. For some, there seems to be a level of freedom living on a corner, or in a park, pushing a cart filled with their belongings. Of course my values and society have taught me that I should pity them, and speak for them, and implore the community to provide for them to end their state of homelessness. And those of us who have more should always insist that those who don’t are cared for, even if that insistence is at our own expense.

Sergio’s experiences are representative of us all. Faced with the reality of homelessness, he realized that all the stuff was much more than he intended and he didn’t need all of it. He has decided to live in a place of continual assessment where he questions need and not simply pursue the desire for want. It is when we reside in insufficiency that we find that we are far more, despite what we lack. It is to accept that homelessness can introduce a different kind of prospective security and that we cannot always find a resolution for it.

When my dad left our family, we faced extreme financial difficulty. But when he left, with him went his anger, hatred and abuse and the people that have, even today, represented his disregard for us, his family. We began to experience a recession of the fear and pain that he heaped on us. We began to develop traditions and enjoy unceasing laughter. At any time, we could experience the knock on the door that could mean living under the bridge, but we continued to enjoy the lift provided when we ended the trading of happiness for financial security. My dad died and I didn’t feel a sense of loss. That desensitizing is likely because his legacy has lived on in some of my siblings in awful ways. But I know that I am better living under the metaphorical bridge with the other homeless than living in the angst, and the muck, that his legacy represented. I am immensely indebted to Sergio for his reflections and for the emotions that they have raised in me.

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