"There are more than one hundred million homeless people in the world," says the UN. If the figure is accurate, that means that approximately 1 in 60 human beings does not have stable housing. The true scope of the problem, however, is difficult to pinpoint. Why?
The book Strategies to Combat Homelessness , published by the United Nations Center for Human Settlements, says that "homeless person" is "one who does not have decent housing. That would include all those living in conditions below what is considered acceptable ”in a given society. There are those who live on the street or in abandoned buildings, while others take refuge in shelters for the homeless or temporarily stay in friends' houses. In any case, as the same source says, “when someone from a 'homeless person' is profiled, it means that they are in a state where something must be done for them.”
In view of the extent of the problem, the reader may know people who are affected. His sad situation trigger several questions. Why do these people lack decent housing ? How do they manage to survive? Who helps them? And what will the future hold?
Without roof repeatedly
Sabrina is a single mother who grew up in a poor area in New York neighborhood of Harlem and dropped out of school after tenth grade. She and her three sons - ten months, three years and ten years - all live together in a one-bedroom in a shelter for the homeless. The city provides such accommodations to those who have no other safe place to live.
Sabrina left her mother's apartment ten years ago. Since then she has lived with her boyfriend or with friends and their family , when the situation has become difficult, she had to struggle to find place to stay. “I have worked for seasons, almost always braiding hair,” she says, “but most of the time I have depended on government help.”
Paradoxically, Sabrina's problems began when she found a good job as a hotel maid, according to Parents magazine . With that job she earned too much to continue receiving the government help, but not enough to cover her living, food, clothing, transportation, childcare, etc. and daily expenses. As it was difficult for her to pay the rent, the owner of the apartment tried to throw her out. In the end, Sabrina left work and went to a short-stay shelter, waiting for a free apartment in the residence, or extended-stay shelter, where she lives now.
"For my children it has been very hard," she says. The eldest has already passed through grade three in schools. He should be in fifth grade, but he has had to repeat a year [...]. We have moved too many times. ” Sabrina is on the waiting list to get a house subsidized by the government.
For those who have nowhere to go, Sabrina might seem lucky. However, not all homeless people accept the idea that the solution to their problems is to live in a shelter.
Some studies indicates that some homeless reject that option because "they fear the discipline and rules of the shelters." Those who stay in such places are expected, for example, to work and prohibited fro using alcohol or drugs. But not everyone is willing to do it. As a consequence, in major cities in USA , homeless people can be seen sleeping in train stations, stairs, basements, park benches and industrial areas or under bridges, depending on the time of year. Similar scenes are repeated all over the world.
A book on homelessness lists many factors that lead to this situation . Some of them are the loss of employment, debts, family problems, as well as the shortage of housing for the elderly, disabled and AIDS patients. Many affected suffer mental and physical problems or addiction, especially alcohol. As for women, most of them have abandoned their husbands - or fled from them - have been thrown out of their home or engaged in prostitution. It seems that after each case there is a sad story to tell.
Victims of the circumstances
Stanisława Golinowska, a specialist in socio-economic issues, says: “In this country, nobody really sleeps on the street by choice. What leads to that situation is, rather, a series of failures that sink the individual and take away the desire to live. ” It seems that the most vulnerable are those who, for various reasons, feel unable to face their problems. For example, some get out of jail and find their home destroyed by criminals. Others are victims of evictions, and there are many who lose their homes due to natural catastrophes.
A survey conducted among homeless people revealed that almost half of them had lived with their spouse and were part of a family, although in many cases this was problematic. Most were thrown out of their home or forced to leave due to serious difficulties. Only 14% decided to leave voluntarily.
After spending some time in a shelter, some recover their situation and find their own home. Others, however, never overcome their situation due, in part, to one or more of the following factors: mental or physical illnesses, addictions to certain substances, lack of motivation to work, poor work habits and low educational level. In the United States, about 30% of homeless people regularly take in what a nonprofit organization calls "the homeless system," which includes shelters, hospitals and, unfortunately, prisons. Those who continually depend on this system use only 10% of the resources that the country dedicates to the problem.
What help is offered?
Some shelters provide these people with services designed to get out of their situation. For example, they help them get financial assistance from government or other sources, legal advice and support to restore family relationships. They also teach them basic skills. For example, serving food, cooking, healthy habits and job search. The purpose of such advice is for young people to raise their self-esteem, motivate themselves and be more independent, so that they can find and keep their own home. These measures are truly commendable.
However, not all shelters offer the help that the affected ones find most necessary. For example, a homeless man from Springfield Mo named Jacek explains that life in shelters does not prepare them for the reality of the outside world. He believes that, since they practically only relate and talk to each other, their way of thinking tends to distort. He says: "The shelter isolates us from the outside world and becomes a kind of children's home for adults." In his opinion, many residents of such shelters have "a distorted view of reality."
According to a survey carried out in California, the loneliness is the most distressing to the homeless. In addition, as a result of their low economic and social level, they are usually considered useless. Some turn to alcohol to drown their sorrows. Jacek explains: "Seeing no chance of things changing, many of us gradually lose the hope that we can improve our situation." These people also feel ashamed of their appearance, their poverty, their helplessness and the simple fact of not having a home.
"Whether we talk about those who live in the streets of Mumbai, Calcutta or even London, or the children of Brazil's street, or here in USA" says Francis Jegede, a specialist in population matters, "the situation of the homeless is so serious and sad that it is difficult to even imagine it. What will it be like, then, for those who live it? ” He adds: "No matter what the cause, or the causes, of this phenomenon, one cannot help wondering why this world with all its technological knowledge, wealth and wisdom seems incapable of solving the problem of homeless people." .
It is obvious that such people need help, but not only of a material nature, but also of the kind that can ease their anguish and lift their spirits. That way, they will be prepared to face and overcome many of the problems that have brought them to their current state. But where can they find that kind of help? And what hopes are there that the tragic situation of those without homes will be solved?
In above article some names have been changed..