Working with the homeless in 2020

My new years resolution for 2020?

To keep working with the homeless.

Why would I make such a resolution? I hope at least some of my reasons are altruistic. I like working with this group people. They are very similar population to the prison population where I worked for a number of years. Psychologically quite similar and I liked working with prisoners as well, when I was there.

Childhood is such raffle. Some have good childhoods, some have bad childhoods and some have very, very bad childhoods. Those from very, very bad childhoods can often end up in a prison, drug rehab, sex work or a homeless centre. It’s just bad luck to have a not good childhood. No one ever chooses the family of origin they have so these people deserve a break and maybe I can help a bit with that. I hope this is an altruistic reason for working with the homeless as I know of other reasons that are a bit more ‘me’ focussed.


Childhood is a raffle. You don’t get to choose your parents or family


With the homeless population (Like the prison population) I feel like I fit in. I feel like I can communicate and relate to these people with ease. It feels natural for me relating to them. I am not to sure what that means about my Child ego state! But this is how I feel. At the homeless centre there is a general meeting area where people can socialise. Some times I will go here and just hang out and maybe ‘chew the fat’ with people there. I do this for two reasons. First because I like doing it. Second, for therapist reasons, in that I get to see who is talking to whom and I can see how they behave amongst their peers. Obviously in the therapist’s room you never get to see that.

However twice now I have had an interesting experience doing this. Just being there and talking to the residents I have one person ask me if I have checked in yet (to the homeless centre) and another asked me what room I was in (at the homeless centre)!!  Whilst I do find it entertaining that these people have a assumed I am a homeless person, I also wonder what this means about my Child ego state again!! And to look at the way I am presenting myself, with my clothing and so forth!

Another somewhat less altruistic reason is you see some very interesting things from a clinical point of view. With the homeless population you get to see people who are much less common in the general population and those who will be the usual private practice client. You get to see some very interesting psychopathology and people who are playing third degree games, at times highly self destructive  and living tragic life scripts.


I took this photograph in the United States for the juxtaposition effect. Two homeless people outside a Hooters restaurant, a place of opulence and affluence.



I recall at my exit interview at the prison I said to the boss, “I should have paid you rather than you paying me”, which surprised him  little. It was an excellent training experience for me as you see a lot more different types of psychopathology that you rarely see in the general community or in private practice type of psychotherapy. I even suggested looking at setting up a training program for therapists in the prison because of this training opportunity but they weren’t interested.

I recall one  guy who I saw sent to me by management on a number of occasions. He was costing them money (which they didn’t like) because they had to continue to give him new blankets as he kept eating the ones he had. I got to work with someone who had Pica disorder. Very interesting man and not something you come across often in private practice at all. A rare condition.

I got to work with another guy who I believe was a true multiple personality disorder (MPD). This is very unusual. Although about 10 years ago it was fashionable to diagnose MPD and lots were diagnosed as such when they weren’t true MPD. This man had periods in the past when he could leave home and not return for a week. At the end of the week he could not tell you where he had been, (This was not drug induced). When I saw him his wife was about to leave him because she thought he was just lying about not remembering. When I diagnosed MPD he felt great relief and he told me that his wife thanked me very much and that she wanted me to know that I had ‘saved their marriage’. It all made sense to them now. She also wanted to give me a gift for my help, but staff can not accept any gifts from inmates or their family.

A prison and homeless centre is like a candy store of psychopathology. If you ever get the opportunity to work in such place, do so, as the training and experience potential is huge. But not a very altruistic reason for working in a homeless centre I am afraid.

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