The folks at Love Wins say homelessness isn’t really a lack of housing, it’s a lack of relationships. A lot of people who are homeless, hungry, poor, etc., don’t have relationships with others who can make sure they’re not outdoors, have enough to eat, are sufficiently clothed and any of the other necessities that life requires. For example, there have been times when I couldn’t make the rent, keep the lights or water on, didn’t have money for groceries, etc. But, my friends and family stepped in to make sure I didn’t get evicted, go hungry or suffer any of the other disasters that could have befallen me.Because of that, this “lack of relationships” thing has always seemed a little foriegn to me. But, the story of Pia Farrenkopf? That’s different.
Pia Farrenkopf was a 49 year-old woman from Pontiac, Michigan who died in 2009. Sadly, that’s not really news; it happens every day. What makes this story different is that no one missed her until a few weeks ago. Yeah, you read that right, she was dead for 5 years and no one missed her. How could such a thing happen? Well, Farrenkopf’s job required a good deal of travel and her neighbors were used to extended absences; that job had ended a few months earlier, so no one at work missed her; what family she had lived on the East Coast and she had lost touch with them and, her mortgage and utilities were paid by bank draft out of an account that had a pretty good chunk of change in it ($54,000). It was that money running out that allowed her to be found; the bank foreclosed on the mortgage and a contractor checking things out found her in the backseat of her car, sitting in the garage.
How does one make so little impact on the world around them that no one notices they’re gone for 5 years? Simply put, a lack of relationships. If Farrenkopf had just one person she talked to on any kind of regular basis, things would’ve turned out differently. But, she didn’t and died alone and unnoticed.
You may be thinking “This is incredibly sad, but it’s nothing like being homeless or hungry”. And, maybe it’s not. But, the loneliness this woman must have felt is heart-breaking. It’s the same loneliness that people who are homeless, on the margins and fallen through the cracks, deal with on a daily basis. And, it may be the most dehumanizing part of the whole situation.
I tell you this story because, while it is a bit extreme, I could see it happening to me. Oh, not the part about no one noticing me being gone for 5 years, that’s a bit much. But, I’m pretty introverted and I like my solitude. If it wasn’t for Olivia (my daughter, who still lives with me), I could go several days without seeing anyone. With just a few small changes to my life, I could end up like Farrenkopf. That realization also highlights the fact that, with just few different changes, I could end up without enough to eat, a place to lay my head or the agency to deal with those problems. When I see it in that light, it’s not so foreign after all.