The Invisible: what can we do?

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November 20, 2016 by Cláudia

In the last two posts, I’ve been addressing homelessness. I’ve been discussing how we excuse ourselves from caring and how we block this reality in order not to have to deal with it. I’ve also exposed my ideas on why I think we should care. But the reality is that even if people care, not much is being done in order to change this situation. There are not many projects already happening and not many structures that have the power to truly make a difference (as much as giving them food and clothes to survive is imperative, it’s not going to change anything long term).

Therefore, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing to be doneone person cannot possibly house every homeless.

So let’s start by focusing on what we can do.

First step is caring, and I will take that for granted after everything I’ve talked about.

But homelessness has been a problem for so long, thus it ends up being perceived as a structural problem rather than the circumstantial problem that it is. I think this can shed some light into a possible solution: our perception.

We don’t perceive homeless people as people, at least not to the full extent of its definition. If we did, we wouldn’t allow homelessness to continue to be a reality. But we look away and pretend they don’t exist. In order to change society’s attitude, we need to give them voice and space to be a part of society. We need to talk to them. Giving them coins while looking away avoiding making eye contact at all cost is not nearly good enough. We need to talk to them, not in a paternalistic mindset but a horizontal one: from equal to equal. I, as a human being, recognize you as a human being. As my equal. To perceive them as a diverse group of human beings and not as a homogeneous mass of “poor things” is imperative.

There are many touching, revolting, unfair and tragic stories associated with homeless people. If only they were spread and people knew about them… I’m sure people’s views would change and they would see them for exactly what they are: people like them.

That brings us to my idea: I’m thinking about creating a platform (maybe a Facebook page and a Youtube channel) where I would share their stories and thus give them voice. This would consist in interviews and/or filming them speaking about their life, struggles, battles, hopes and dreams. If you are interested in helping me in any way, whether it is to give a suggestion, to provide content, to help with the editing or the design or in any other way you may think of, please do. Write me a comment and I will give you my contact, I am very interested in getting in touch with anyone else who has this concern and exchange ideas and views.

However, working towards changing the perspective (which will inevitably take several years before having a significant impact) doesn’t do much in terms of improving their lives right now. The inescapable truth is that they have primary needs to survive: eat, protect themselves from the cold… These are very basic human needs that need to be constantly fulfilled. So if I could inspire you to help directly whether by giving food, clothes or blankets, a bit of your time to have a conversation… that would make a huge difference already.

That’s primary for their survival and (best as possible) well-being but it is not going to solve the problem in the long run.

The major challenge the homeless face is their utter lack of power and that’s the main reason homelessness perpetuates itself and seems so impossible to change. They are powerless and therefore their condition can only be truly changed with outside efforts. They cannot vote, they don’t have ID, no one is going to employ them as they are perceived as untrustworthy or lazy and they are excluded from the State and in consequence from all its services – health, social security, education etc.

With this is mind, in order to completely change their paradigm, structural change is pressing. Structures and institutions must be built in order to rehabilitate and reintegrate this people, emphasizing the psychological and mental support. This institution would be the opposite of the traditional approach – instead of helping them indefinitely with solely the basic for survival, we would reintegrate them in society and let them find their own path. We would give them the tools to built themselves a dignified life which wouldn’t have to depend each and every day on others’ sympathy. So it’s really not encouraging parasitism or laziness – quite the contrary. It is to foment recovery.

I believe a society is only as strong as its weakest individuals. A society cannot truly be developed and civilized as long as there are people living on the streets in misery. In order to be whole, we need to protect everyone and give everyone a chance of happiness. Our society needs to reintegrate everyone who is left out so that they can too contribute – they need us but we need them too.

We need to pressure our Governments to care about this issue instead of avoiding it or looking the other way as it is common. And we need to not rely on the Government to do everything and organize ourselves to create structures and change things.



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