August 19, 2007

Homelessness - there but for the Grace of G-d

Whenever I briefly glimpse this topic, I shudder. At the keyboard of my computer now, surely I'm lightyears from it.

But am I?

Father David Holdcroft, refuge organizer, describes the common elements connecting the homeless, as he sees them:

Few had married. Mothers, in the case of the men, sometimes figured strongly in their lives, but fathers were almost universally absent, emotionally distant or violent. Always there were deep feelings of rejection associated with family.

Along with rejection there was always a sense of displacement, a sense that life was not where it should have been, that the normal growth and development of life had been radically interrupted by something or someone. Such interruptions are surely relatively common but, in the case of the homeless, there had been no recovery, no resumption of a "normal" life.

"Normal growth and development of life had been radically interrupted." "A sense of displacement." I've read the stats on mental illness, cost of housing, governmental displacement of populations such as the one coming up in the next five years and so on.

Seems to me that intellect plays a huge part - reasoning power. For example, here in the fSU, everyday can be your last and that's them telling me that. Me - I still have vestiges of that implicit western faith that things can never go suddenly awry in one's station.

It's not so. I can be on the street within a month but, I say to my friend: "We're in demand, you and I; we'd always find a place."

He looks quizzically and murmurs: "Pok'a," meaning "for now".

And he's right. Gradual loss of memory, slight eccentricities starting to appear, a few wrong moves, angry reactions and our word-of-mouth clientele melts away with our reputation. Reputation is everything in this country, my friend says.

If you don't have the extended family, then you need a network of well-placed connections. Not necessarily highly placed but well-placed, according to needs. Every single person here survives only on those connections. Family is dependent. It doesn't save the man and this is still a patriarchal society.

Truth is, I'm dislocated. There are no roots here and my roots in Britain and Australia have withered and died away. There are still a few former friends over there. So here I currently am, enjoying a tenuous status out of proportion to my true state but I only need to annoy one highly placed official and I'm blackballed.

That's the end of food on the table and no family to throw you any crumbs. Suddenly, regulations which once passed you by now crowd in on you and life doesn't bear thinking about. You can't survive on the street here without both intellect and language, the latter equally important .

The beggars you see at the crossroads are mafia run - the cash goes to the man in black and the beggar gets some soup to drink. You do not want to be in that situation, any more than in a London dole queue with a landlord beating on the door every Friday for the exorbitant rent.

The only solution is to trust the promise of the Lord that you'll be looked after but it also helps to think laterally. Instead of descending to the street - fly to Canada or Australia, all documentation in order and the last of the money at the ready. Then you can use your wherewithal, your ability to start up again.

As long as you have that ability of course. Age first kills the resolve, then the health and finally the reasoning power. Then you're gone. Interesting article I read, which challenges:

Define Homeless:
'An inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community.' This fact is now recognized by Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

When I see the poor unfortunates on the street denied even basic hygiene, Father Holdcroft's view comes home that there can be intellect there, a sort of self-worth, even past achievements but that there is always some sort of dislocation, a missing link.

There, but for the Grace of G-d, go I.

Of course I have another cunning plan ...

[Crossposted at Nourishing Obscurity]


Colin Campbell said...

It doesn't take much to get to this point in life. Some combination of job loss, drug or alcohol use, personal difficulties... can be all it takes to lose your way. Getting back on track can be challenging. Some of my transitions in my travels have been very challenging and I got lucky a couple of times.

Sir James Beiggelschwarz said...

Luck seems a major factor, Colin.

Gracchi said...

James luck I think is a major factor- wonderful article I think homelessness is something we all might slip into- just thinking of mental illness I know too many people who have been through it to think that it doesn't hit people almost indiscriminately particularly in old age.

The other thing on the streets of London of course I don't know about where you are is that many of the homeless are actually ex soldiers which makes it even sadder.