Help in a meaningful way

Mikhail Manuel, Claremont

Public spaces have become bedrooms. The subways that connect our neighbourhoods have become toilets. Guarding your car has become an economy.

Homeless people have found a way to sustain their livelihoods and it will never change unless we develop a compassionate understanding of the complexities between choice and dependency.

No one chooses to live on the streets. Why would you? It is exposed, insecure, undignified, and unsafe.

People find themselves living on the streets because at some point they believe that they have no other remaining choices when faced with life’s tough circumstances.

But life on the streets does not turn out to be the type of nurturing space that supports the development that individuals need to face their lives again. Instead, it is the exact opposite.

In the cold, homeless people turn to anything to keep them warm – fire, cardboard, and plastic.

In the lack of safety, street life appears safer if people live in pairs or groups that offer safety in exchange for favours, the basic ingredients for forming street gangs.

Furthermore, in the insecurity, lack of dignity, and in an effort to forget circumstances and drown sorrows, street life might be easier if drunk or high on drugs.

People are driven into living on the streets in the hope that somehow, they might find a solution to life’s difficulties. But upon arrival they find a world that is utterly at odds with the basic ingredients to live life with freedom.

We naively sustain this heart-breaking world with our car guard tips, our food handouts, and our parcels of “help”.

Perhaps it is the frustration of having someone walk next to you, constantly heckling for R2, that eventually leads you to give. Perhaps it is the appreciation that your car is less likely to be broken-into because of the presence of a person on a quiet street. Perhaps it is the fear that your car will be keyed if you do not “tip” the person standing at your window. Or perhaps it is genuine compassion that drives you to give out of a desire to do good.

Whatever our reasons for giving, unstructured support that does not correctly address the root problems does not help.

A R2 tip to a car guard could potentially generate a small but meaningful weekly income. This can be used to effectively turn a life around, but the social support, physical security, and healthy environment that is needed will not be found on the streets.

Therefore, this is my call to action. Find an organisation that supports the social development of homeless people. Provide these organisations with the financial resources that they desperately need to effectively assist people living on the streets to truly find freedom and a better life. Resist the urge to give tips to car guards and think about what it is actually doing for them.

Do not give food or clothing or any handouts that may innocently appear “helpful”. Instead, give compassion – a listening ear to understand someone’s story; then, direct them to a dedicated organisation that provides the support needed to truly overcome life’s tough challenges.