There are 50,000 homeless men and women in Italy, of which 7,000 are homeless in Rome. 250,000 people are homeless in the UK, 500,000 are homeless in the U.S.A. One billion people worldwide are living without adequate shelter.
Countries and charities spend billions of euros, dollars and pounds keeping people on the streets instead of working to solve the problem at grass roots. In acts of kindness, they hand out food, bedding, clothing and shoes.
An Italian friend tells a story about feeding wild birds outside the front door. The birds are appreciative, so much so that they built nests, they invite their friends and inevitably, with so many birds around, they make a mess. It’s not a kind story, but it’s about birds, not human beings. However, the underlying meaning is clear. If you offer something and somewhere to eat, the recipients will come and keep on coming with their friends too. They start to rely on others to support them, it becomes an obligation. They lose the drive or willingness to support themselves.
Living on the street is brutal and it’s dangerous. Attacks and muggings are frequent, a good night’s sleep is rare, and washing facilities are virtually non existent. Most would not wish the life on their worst enemy, but, there are those who accept it as a way of life that costs nothing and bears no responsibility.
At the same time, there are others who have no choice but to sleep `rough’, for economic reasons (divorce, loss of a job). And yet more who are absolutely not capable of supporting themselves otherwise. It is a sub-community of people that have slipped beneath the invisible line and have started a downward spiral, until at a certain point, homelessness becomes their `norm’. A community that includes the elderly, the poor, the mentally ill, criminals, addicts, dealers, people who have suffered misfortune. And all of us are only a pay cheque or two away.
How can we address society’s biggest and fastest growing issue? First, we have to care enough about other people, not just homeless people, but all human beings around us. Because this shouldn’t be happening, no-one should sleep outside or go without, when all of us have beds, a warm place to sleep and wash, an abundance of clothes and shoes. No-one.
For the homeless, there are sustainable and long-term solutions. Finland offers a home with a rental contact at the point a person becomes homeless. Other northern European countries are adopting similar programmes. The town of Medicine in Canada also claims to have eradicated homelessness with a housing programme. https://www.youtube.com/user/BCPovertyReduction
Last week, Project Rome proposed a system of setting up community homes. A house, or apartment, funded and supported by communities, churches and charities, where 4 – 6 men or women live, in a homely environment while they get their lives back together and in time, rejoin `normal’ society.
Instead of spending money on food, vehicles, petrol and salaries to feed the problem, communities would spend their time and money supporting a home. Just as we do in northern Rome at the Project Rome House.
But first of all, every person living without a home in every city, on every street, should be registered, their name and location recorded and attempt made to reunite them with family, repatriate them or find them a home.
And ANYONE who is away from their own country and homeless, (barring everyone who has fled from war or persecution), should go back there. In Rome, there are around 70% of `other Europeans’ living on the street. Many have homes and families overseas but prefer Rome’s streets as a way of surviving at zero cost. There are no jobs for them, there is no future for them.
Second, our attitude to homelessness, poverty and the less able has to change. We should share what we have, whether that means our time, or our money, our possessions or or homes.
Ask any charity how often they open bags of donations to find shoes with holes in, or
clothing that is stained, dirty or worn out. Many people donate items that way past their best, or things that are unsuitable for the people they are intended for. Evening dresses for homeless men, bikinis and platform shoes. People don’t like to throw away what they spent their money on, so they give it to charity and then they feel good about it. Meanwhile, charity workers collect, sort, and throw these donations, using their time and energy and resources.
So how about we keep or throw our worn out items and we go out and buy a person in need a new pair of shoes, or a new T-shirt (10 euros?) or a new pair of jeans. Consider it as `double giving’, giving what we want, not what we don’t want. Or if we can’t afford to do that, then we give clothes that we want and would wear, but that we realise would be of more use to someone else, because we already have six pullovers.
Most importantly, let’s stop thinking that homelessness is someone else’s problem. Do you want the streets to be a sub-culture of people who have so little that some will even rob another homeless person? Or who use the street as a toilet? Or who rely on meals brought by our churches and charities, because they have nothing to eat and no-where to sleep?
Let’s show kindness and compassion in all things and start working together to solve society’s problems, not sustain them.