Homelessness: A choice or fate?

Work maybe a necessary evil, but homelessness is one that should not exist, yet after centuries it remains a dark side of human society. There are empty buildings that could keep people warm and so much food is wasted, yet is destroyed in fear that someone may sue for food poisoning. These are basics every human should have a right to and the solutions exist, however, laws prevent them from being actioned or is it apathy? At Christmas we see more charity towards the homeless as many die in the cold, but this is not a seasonal issue, but one society refuses to address in this globalized and materialistic world.

In the Victorian era many people were homeless, they had the workhouses and the churches to help those that were homeless and needed poor relief and alms. Today, we have social welfare that is supposed to help people get off the street and stay off the streets. The stigma of being homeless survives in this modern world of globalization, where money is given to wars and Third world countries that don’t invest in their own people. How is that right?

In Florida, they segregate the homeless where a recent case of a volunteer and priests were arrested for handing out meals to the homeless on a beach. The state wanted to keep the homeless out of sight, by regulating where free meals could be distributed. They are already stigmatized and are further humiliated by being forced to receive aid under certain conditions dictated by the authorities to ‘hide’ the embarrassment of the homeless to the tourists.

In the Silicon Valley, one the homeless camps nicknamed, ‘The Jungle’ has been destroyed and all residents told to move or to be arrested. The area is one of the most affluent in the USA and again is an embarrassment to the authorities. The fact is, homeless exists, but it doesn’t have to.

I had a debate with someone who claimed people choose to be homeless, as they don’t want the responsibility of bills and a job. There maybe a few like that, but people don’t choose to sleep on a bench or on the ground open to attack in the cold. Some have no choice; they have lost their home, they are running away from abuse or perhaps a parent or partner has forced them leave.

Having no home or a place to be is unsettling and it’s hard to get yourself back on your feet. It doesn’t matter how educated you are or even famous, several celebrities have found themselves homeless after losing all their money. Many are runaway children either thrown out by parents or escaping abuse, others maybe be drug addicts or alcoholics that have lost everything due to their addiction or war veterans who can’t find a job and are left on the streets to survive.

How do I know? I worked one Christmas on a project to help the homeless, I worked six days and met many ‘guests’ and people who used to be ‘guests’ and who had managed to get their life back on track. I ran a shelter with Bob, he used to be homeless after he left prison and told me his experiences. I was humbled and was never scared to be with him and learned we can never judge someone by how they look. Among some of the ‘guests’ I talked with were divorced men who lost everything and people who admitted they had made mistakes and wanted another chance at life. Homelessness can happen to anyone. It happened to me.

There are the hidden homeless, those who couch surf and live hand to mouth, relying on the kindness of friends. It’s not a choice, but we do make mistakes, as we are human. Having a roof over your head and food is a basic human necessity. When I did get my own place, I have always like Dr. Barnardo made sure that my sofa or floor with a sleeping bag was available to any friends who needed it. Even if the timing wasn’t the best, I have been there and a small inconvenience is nothing compared to what someone who is homeless goes through mentally and physically.

People try to avoid the homeless in the street, but they are humans, part of society. There are some con artists too, so generally I will buy a meal deal, sandwich, pie and a drink for them so they will have at least one hot meal a day if I can. I can’t say how many months in my life I have survived on peanut butter sandwiches and a pot of ramen noodles, but homelessness should be extinct, but this social crime is allowed to persist and I hope one day it will be eradicated forever.

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