Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Challenge that Hits Home

I celebrated a birthday this week the same way I celebrated it last year -- hanging around outside my house, unable to enter it without experiencing severe pain and other health symptoms. The state of my home and my relationship with it has varied throughout the year. Until about a month ago I had made enough progress that I was able to be inside for most of the day. I've been unable to sleep an entire night inside, however, for a solid 12 months now. I've been sleeping in my campervan in the driveway, during weather that has varied from single digits to over 100 degrees.

My experience is far from unique. Semi-homelessness or full homelessness is truly a crisis within the MCS and mold-injured community. Homes are not generally built and maintained with human health in mind, and even when they are fairly toxin-free, it only takes one renovation, leak, new neighbor, or other change to make them unlivable for those with serious sensitivities. People who are already sick have a very hard time making needed changes to a home without making themselves sicker, but relying on others is also problematic. It is very difficult for those without sensitivities to understand the full impact of choices they make regarding products and methods of renovation and clean-up.

Just within the last few weeks I have had contact with friends in the following situations:

  • Someone who had been living on a porch is now living in her car.

  • A couple who had been carefully building a non-toxic home had to leave it when one building product proved to be more toxic than advertised. They are now living with extended family and the person with MCS must wear a mask when she leaves the bedroom.

  • A couple gave up trying to renovate their home, gave it back to the bank and moved into a hotel.

  • Someone who had to leave her apartment and live with a family member is now having to leave that home because of renovations there. She has nowhere safe to go.

More stories from the MCS homeless can be found here. Warning: profanity makes an appearance in a couple of spots, but if you can get past that, the page is well worth reading.

Dr. Pamela Gibson of James Madison University wrote an eye-opening paper entitled Chemical Sensitivity/Chemical Injury and Life Disruption. In it she notes that 66% of people with MCS who were surveyed reported living in unusual conditions, such as their cars, in RVs, on porches or in tents at some time in their illness. One survey respondent reported living for a year in her horse trailer. Less than half of the MCS sufferers surveyed considered their current home to be "very safe" (5%) or "mostly safe: (35.6%). People had spent an average of $27,816 trying to make their homes healthier for them. An article published seven years later found the total to be $57,000.

The Environmental Health Coalition of Western Massachusetts also looked at the issue. In a press release entitled Homelessness at Critical Level for Western Massachusetts Chemically Injured   the group noted the following:

  • Homelessness in the general population is estimated to be below 1%, but 57% of MCS sufferers surveyed had been homeless at some point, and 10–20% of respondents were homeless at the time of the survey.

  • 25% had lived in a car, for an average of nine months.

  • 15% had lived in a tent, for an average of eight months.

  • 73% had at some point had to live in places that made them sick.

  • Only 25% considered their current housing to be both safe and permanent.

The "safety net" options for those who are healthy are not options for those with MCS. I personally know of no homeless shelter anywhere in the United States that would be suitable for those with serious chemical sensitivities. People truly have nowhere to go.

I am going to be frank and venture into territory that is sometimes considered taboo to discuss. Two MCS sufferers I know with housing challenges have recently expressed a desire to die. Suicide is a significant problem within the MCS community and, although it can be linked to many different aspects of the MCS life, housing, or lack thereof, often seems to be a trigger. From a purely secular, logical standpoint, the thoughts are understandable. A person feels that there is nowhere left on the earth to simply exist.

There are a number of ways you can help this important cause, including the following:

1. Make non-toxic choices for your own home. Be aware that your laundry products (which are pumped into the air through dryer vents), lawn and pest control chemicals, outdoor furnaces, etc. all affect your neighborhood and your neighbors.

2. If you own rental properties, make them MCS-safe. If you do so, and advertise them as such, you may be very surprised at the strength of the response.

3. Donate. I'm currently aware of two groups that are working to improve the MCS housing situation. Both are new, young organizations.  They are ReShelter and  The Jennifer Parker Foundation. ReShelter is preparing to award its first small grants to MCS sufferers within the next few months.

4. Pray. Please pray for us.  This is a very challenging and tiring fight.

1 comment:

Zona said...

This is sadly way too true. There is (was?) an area in arizona where people with MCS went and mostly lived in tents or old campers. Those were the ones that couldn't afford to live in an MCS quasi community in a different place in the mountains that is beyond most disabled persons income levels... But then you can't really do that in other areas of the country that have cold winters, can you?