Homeless is a state and not a human trait

Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. Picture: Supplied

Carlos Mesquita and a handful of others formed HAC (the Homeless Action Committee) that lobbies for the rights of the homeless. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 19, 2022


I received this very important question from a woman two weeks ago:

“I wanted to engage with you to ask for your suggestions and advice. I have a deep empathy for the homeless, the addicted and the marginalised, especially children. However, in my humanity, I find myself often annoyed, frustrated and angry at what I see. If I’m honest, I don’t like what I see.

“Men and women lying all over Sea Point and (the) CBD and the area in front of the Castle and other areas plastered out of their minds, the filth they leave behind them. The faeces and urine on the walkways. The fear and nervousness they bring into a neighbourhood & the crime they commit, and the aggression they have. The drunken man asking me to buy his groceries so he can sell them to buy more booze. I compare ‘them’ to those who work 9-12 hour days to support their families, and put their children through school. Pay for security to protect themselves. Those who are separated from their families in order to support them doing life and the stresses of the everyday.

“I do see the stories I read, particularly in Ladles of Love, of those who found themselves on the streets through no fault of their own, and it breaks my heart. I support such charities financially and practically. I support homeless talk. I engage where I can with those I meet on the streets. How am I meant to think about the homeless? How am I helping them in the long term?

“I believe you have an understanding from both perspectives. Perhaps you can speak about how we should deal with this dichotomy of emotions we have.”

I know from experience that his woman’s question could have been posed by thousands more, and so I am going to dedicate three weeks to answer it to the best of my ability.

First, we have to define the homeless but, at the same time, realise that homelessness is a state and not a trait and thus have to understand that one is dealing with different groups of individuals.

Defining: Homelessness Homelessness is when a person does not have a home in which you have shelter, can exercise control over a physical area, can maintain privacy and enjoy social relations and have legal title through tenancy rights or ownership. It includes rough sleeping on the streets, in parks, squats, stays in shelters for the homeless and sleeping on couches at friends’ homes.

Rough sleeping on the streets means one is living without shelter, in improvised dwellings.

Now let’s look at who makes up the homeless community and why.

The homeless community is made up mostly of people who are unemployed and have no resources to keep themselves housed. Once they are unable to earn a living, people who have become addicted to substances or behaviours to deal with issues they have never had the opportunity to deal with on a professional level, and whose behaviour was brought about by their addiction, results in family and community ostracisation,;the elderly whose families can either not afford to support or view them as a burden, much the same as with the disabled and mentally challenged; LGBTQI youth who are often rejected and expelled by families and communities; and convicted criminals, released back into society but ostracised by both families and communities.

Herein lies the reason why I often say that the answer to homelessness is INCLUSION and why my theory for ending chronic homelessness is: Being, Becoming, and Belonging.

If you look at all the groups that make up the homeless community, you find that all, for various reasons, are being pushed out by society.

We don’t stop to think that no one is born to be rejected or to live on the streets.

Take a gay youth who, at 14, comes out and is rejected by his family and community. He will have issues to deal with but doesn’t get the opportunity. He lands up on the streets. To survive, he prostitutes himself. The criminal justice system punishes him for his addiction and means of earning a living. He is sent to jail. He is released back on to the streets, having become a qualified car hijacker in prison.

We judge him on who he has become, but we never stop to think how we as a society rejected him at 14 and offered no assistance when he became homeless at 14. (Based on a true case study right here in Cape Town. A young man I knew well.)

The more rejection he experiences, the more anti-social his behaviour becomes.

And if he tries to change his criminal ways and enters a programme and a shelter and starts on a work programme, all these are currently temporary in nature, and so, he goes from being what he was, becomes the best version of himself. Yet we do not offer him any sense of belonging with our temporary interventions and judgemental mentality.

As a result, he reverts back to the “outcasts”, the homeless community where he experiences that sense of belonging we all crave.

End of part one.

*Carlos Mesquita

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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