In Recognition of Relational Health

Opinion Letter by Léonie Couture, Founder et executive director

Emily was a shy, withdrawn child, often absent from school. On her first day of 6th grade, she was once again nowhere to be found. Her teachers and classroom friends had good reasons to believe she had problems at home, but she would never open up…
It’s hard to understand how some children can disconnect from their living environment to the point where they disappear gradually, becoming invisible… Perhaps you have a vague memory of someone like Emily in your life, whom you never heard from again. She’s not on any of your social networks.

Eventually, Emily found herself on the street; abandoned, lost, fighting to survive against constant insecurity and the dangers of aggression: a situation which too many women in a state of homelessness, about 6,000, are currently facing in Montreal.

Today, Herstreet welcomes Emily and dozens of other women who have suffered disconnection, exclusion and relational issues for far too long.

An approach focused on relational health

For nearly 20 years, Herstreet has defined the process leading to the state of homelessness as a series of deep “relational health” issues. “Relational health” is the ability to connect with oneself and others. The  loss of loved ones, violence, neglect or abuse of any kind suffered by children leave very painful, real and morbid wounds, leading to inner detachment as a means to survive. These wounds damage one’s relational capacities and can cause dysfunctional behaviour, much like a broken leg causes a limp.

Herstreet believes that the state of homelessness is not an issue of poverty or a question of the “will to get better”. It’s a very serious state of being, a sort of “relational coma” stemming from a type of suffering that the notion of relational health can help clarify. This alternative understanding in turn leads to new solutions.

Acknowledging the damage and suffering caused by relational issues is key to the healing process and is a source of human dignity. From there, it is possible to provide the necessary care and services to give these women the strength to reconnect with life. Herstreet makes care and services available in an inclusive community through Maison Olga, Centre Dahlia and a third shelter coming soon. Our innovative approach is effective: two thirds of the women sheltered and cared for over the past 10 years have since found permanent housing and, most importantly, have regained their dignity. Families have finally been able to reconnect with their mothers, daughters and sisters…

In order for our society to finally find an adequate and sustainable solution to the state of homelessness, so that nobody is abandoned to the streets any longer, it is time to acknowledge the existence of relational health and its key role in the way we view health… and the state of homelessness.