By Juliet Efalola Thomas
Considering that poverty and homelessness are not natural, they can be tackled by wilful actions of society. This social problem is quite complicated and escalating by the minute. It transcends people living or sleeping in the streets.
In some cases, people live in market places or even uncompleted and abandoned buildings. What of those people living in houses that do not meet health and safety standards? Do they have homes? This brings us to the question; what can we call home? It is a place of safety, conducive physically, socially and mentally for all the family. A home is where you feel belong and comfortable. When a light downpour of rain or some other weather or social condition can make one's house uninhabitable, is that place suitable for a home? Now imagine the thousands of people in such state, thereupon you can get a hint of how grave the issue of homelessness is.
The streets of Freetown have become the permanent residence of a heap of its citizens. Children, aged, disabled, blind, sick, and even abled-bodied youths, all dwell therein. Walking through kissy road towards eastern police sketches the whole locus.
The causes of homelessness mirror an elaborate interaction among structural factors, systemic glitch, and individual circumstances. Which typically spring from accumulative aftermath of numerous factors rather than a singular cause. Homelessness and poverty are intimately linked. People who are pauperized are obvious preys of homelessness. Poverty is one of the underlying causes of homelessness. We are in a country wherein the bulk of the population have to toil to provide basic amenities for their families. Renting or owning a decent home for such people is considered a luxury. Even the tin shacks are pricy.
We recognize economic and societal issues that affect the social environment, especially in providing appreciable opportunities for individuals who need such. It is quite unfortunate to note that lack of adequate income or even lack of income itself may lead to homelessness. Many Sierra Leoneans lack a fixed source of income, as most are involved in petty trading or irregular work. Hence, a slight economic shift could have lasting effects, to the point of rendering some homeless. Also, not everyone is lucky enough to secure a job. Even if lucky, the uncertain nature of the workforce is enough to speak for itself. The truth is that anyone could be faced with unanticipated workplace misfortune. The sudden loss of income can impel someone to stop paying their rent, ultimately leading to eviction and homelessness.
Have you noticed that most of the homeless people you see are sick or disabled? The loss of job, income or savings as a result of suffering from traumatic situations, such as severe illness or accidents that cause disability often leads to homelessness. We live in a society in which families ostracize their relatives because of certain sicknesses or disabilities. Those people at the same time cannot hold jobs or have a steady income because of their conditions. The only way they could survive is to live off the streets.
Abuse is another compelling factor that causes homelessness. Women and children who suffer from domestic violence and abuse are sometimes forced to call the streets their home since that is the only way out they know… that is their escape route.
Rural-Urban migration, in some cases, could also cause homelessness. People leave their convenient houses in the provinces and move to the city in search of "greener pastures" not knowing that the 'grass' ONLY LOOKS greener on the other side. Most households in the provinces have farms that they can easily feed themselves from and get income from selling their produce. They have suitable places to lay their heads yet intrigued by city life, and they make the big move. Relocating to an area where you know no one, have no job waiting for you, or enough resources for upkeep is extremely risky. And this is how some have found themselves homeless.
Other sets of people liable to be homeless are those with mental health issues and addiction. Having a mental illness makes a person susceptible to homelessness. Those involved in substance abuse are frequently left homeless- this intensifies their conditions. Without treatment services, they will wallow in such predicament for a very long time.
There are many myths about homeless people. One of such misconceptions is that; homeless people are dangerous. They are more more likely to become victims of violent crimes than commit the crimes themselves. People without houses are exposed and cannot afford the safety that a home provides. It is not far from the truth that homeless people can be arrested frequently. Still, such arrests usually are for non-violent crimes associated with not having a home, like trespassing, and public urination. Another misconception is that people choose to be homeless; they don't, perhaps that is the only solution they have to an existing predicament. Some individuals think homeless people deserve to be homeless, should be defined by it, and are worthless because of it; such individuals should have a rethink.
The consequences of poverty and homelessness are nearly ineffaceable. Such people often suffer from low self-esteem, loss of ability to care for themselves, increased substance abuse, increase danger of abuse and violence, and behavioural problems. All these increase the chances of entering the criminal justice system. Homelessness impacts all of us negatively, whether we experience it personally or not. It is a public health concern as such people do not have access to proper sanitary facilities and are compelled to relieve themselves outside. That consequently affects the environment. They also lack access to adequate health care and are exposed to infectious diseases which can be transferred to others.
Homelessness is an economic problem as those people are not equipped to contribute to the economic growth of the country but use public resources in one way or another. It can also negatively impact the tourism industry as it makes for an unpleasant sight for visitors and investors.
There is a possibility of ending this plague. The first step is the acknowledgement of shared responsibility as humans; which should not be contingent on whether one has a home or not. Another step is creating a support system at the community level. Whatever happened to being our brother's keeper? If you can help a homeless person, it is only right you do. In the end, it is those seemingly little steps that create lasting change in society.