Boredom is killing unhoused populations

People experiencing housing insecurity deserve empathy.

Housing insecurity is a concerning social issue in Kingston, resulting in individuals living outdoors or in other unstable living conditions.

In 2021, the City of Kingston released an official count which considered 207 people to be unhoused—an exponential increase from the 81 counted in 2018. Moreover, the majority of those experiencing homelessness today are chronically homeless, meaning they haven’t slept in a home of their own for over a year.

According to researcher Carrie Anne Marshall’s meta-analysis of 17 studies, one crucial yet seemingly trivial privilege the unhoused lack is the ability to engage in meaningful work and socialization. The absence of such meaning fosters boredom.

The inaccessibility of meaningful work and social interaction can be linked to a variety of other resources the unhoused lack. Low financial means can hinder a person’s ability to apply for and obtain employment. Prolonged unemployment then exacerbates financial instability in a vicious cycle.

Insufficient funds for casual spending preclude the unhoused from entertainment accessible to privileged groups, like mindless shopping, casual nights out, trips to the movies, and so on. People experiencing housing insecurity are instead left with swaths of empty time.

According to Marshall’s study, people experiencing homelessness may turn to activities promising instant gratification, like sex and drugs, as a substitute for the deeper meaning they could otherwise gain through work and socialization.

Walking is another available pastime. Walking can be purposeful, like when traveling from one destination to another, but in unhoused populations may serve primarily to create fatigue and allow an individual to lose more of their day to sleep.

The consequences of boredom on mental health are dire. Marshall describes the chronic boredom unhoused individuals suffer as a persistent social suffering, which leads to lost motivation, feeling overwhelmed due to chronic over-reflection on current and past traumas, and suicidal thoughts.

Dominant negative narratives about unhoused populations obstruct genuine understanding of the struggles they face. Publicizing the association between housing insecurity and chronic boredom can facilitate necessary empathy.

Understanding the consequences of chronic boredom for unhoused individuals presents an opportunity for targeted intervention.

A positive solution for boredom would be promoting socialization and peer support. Allowing unhoused populations to interact with one another and form family-like, supportive social networks amongst themselves benefits social connectedness, mental health, and overall well-being.

Providing positive outlets for dealing with boredom, like peer support networks, and promoting empathy for disadvantaged groups could help make significant strides in reducing the prolongation of housing insecurity and the negative outcomes associated with it.

Sina is a third-year health sciences student and The Journal’s Assistant Lifestyle Editor.


boredom, empathy, housing insecurity

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