The Homeless do not crash to earth from Mars, writes Paul Hooper, Coordinator, Western Cape Street Children's Forum. They come from within us, they are our own, they crawl onto our streets from the hell we as a modern people create through our greed, our failure to care and our willingness to exploit. Yet even then we remain unsatisfied and continue to find political and economic self-enrichment through the harassment and abuse of the weak, the vulnerable, the homeless, those who gnaw on the illusion of hope that the street provides.
The most marginalised of our community offer us a mirror to ourselves, the answer not in the solving, but in the healing required of not just the homeless, but of our ourselves, our community. It is therefore nothing less than the saving of ourselves from ourselves.
It might also be helpful to ask yourselves the following questions:
• Are the basic needs of the Homeless being looked after, eg health, food, hygiene, etc? For instance, are they taking their medication for TB, HIV, mental disorders, etc? Are they getting regular health checks, do they have the access to the right health products and protection. Do they have infections, wounds, etc, are these being properly addressed, are they getting proper nutrition, etc?
• Do any need to be institutionalised, even temporarily for mental health disorders or chronic illness?
• Is there anyone new on the street today? Can we intervene and get them help before they settle down and lock onto the street?
• is there any crises on the street today, does it need immediate intervention (eg stab wound, some sort of physical or psychological trauma, relationship problems, etc)?
• Are any in trouble with the law and therefore hiding on the street? If so are they a danger to the community (if yes then report them and get them removed, if not then find out if negotiating with the authorities will help to solve the issue and put their life back together (this takes trust and time, sometimes years but has enabled me to help many adults on the street.)?
• Who is exploiting them, selling them cheap alcohol (and other drugs), giving them free alcohol in the mornings so they will buy a bottle later, taking their ID's so they can get their disability grants and pensions in exchange for alcohol, using them to get recycling together and paying them in alcohol or very low returns. How can we as a community stop this exploitation? Who for instance is using them for cheap labour and paying them such low wages that they cannot return home at night?
• Are any entitled to a disability grant, pension or other state subsidy and not getting it. Do they have ID books, etc?
• How can we legitimise their income streams? How do they earn a living on the street (eg recycling, begging, car parking, petty crime, etc)? Which of these income streams can be developed into a legitimate income stream? Eg recycling/car parking, etc. What would it take to do this, whose help/approval do we need, how can we support and protect the Street People so they are not pushed out by criminal elements or exploited by business (this will happen). Can we develop a street bank (a safe place they can save money, keep their id book safe, etc)?
• What skills do we have amongst the street people? How can we engage these skills constructively (eg bricklaying, art, etc). How can we help them get more skills or use their skills to help themselves and the community?
• What creative accommodation can we come up within the community they live, how can we help them develop a sense of community and ownership towards living settled lives?
• Are any willing to become involved in Rehab programmes? Can we start such programmes on the street, what will it take to bring them out of intense substance abuse?
• What constructive role can they play in the community, can they help us identify criminals, watch out for children in need, clean our parks, look after our rivers/beaches, help with tourism, events and the like. How can we make them feel that they are a useful part of our society?
• How can we make the homeless feel part of our community? Let us help them to use the library and other state resources. What is expected of them to be able to do this (eg hygiene and behaviour, not drunk, respect books and other users, etc)?
• Most importantly, how can we find them a place in our society? Are they homeless… or society-less?