When I ask members of the homeless community what would make the biggest difference in helping them get back on their feet and increase their quality of life, I get a consistent answer, a roof over their heads that they can rely on. This is something I take for granted but for many it is only a dream compared to the reality of sleeping rough, camping or couch surfing.
The story a of another wonderful gentleman I have met in St John’s illustrates this well. T is one of the nicest people I have met in recent years. He cooks at the homeless events there and for the past few years he lived with a friend who suffered badly from diabetes. T looked after him, cooking three meals a day and in return he could stay there and have a place to call home. Unfortunately his friend’s health deteriorated and he had to move to more professional care and now T has lost his place to stay.
Chatting with him about the impact of this brought it home to me. T wasn’t sure how he was going to fit all his stuff into one large backpack but that was all he was going to be able to have if he didn’t have a regular place to stay. If I think about getting all my important things into one backpack, it is clear I wouldn’t know where to start with all of my stuff! When I met T yesterday, I was delighted to hear the local pastor has offered T a place to stay on a temporary basis. It is a start and so much better than the alternative.
The pictures below illustrate what living rough can be like. This is a temporary camp on the side of a railway embankment, one of a number in the area. I can sense it won’t be long before they are cleared out because of the health hazard and they’ll move on to the next site and so the cycle continues maintaining the status quo with no long term improvement for anyone involved.
While I paint a pretty bleak picture, I know there are lots of positive housing stories and I recognize this is a very difficult problem to fix. My homeless friends recognize the same. For example, how do you avoid affordable housing being used for drug production and abuse? How do you deal with the small minority who are content to ruin it for the masses? One thing is for certain, there has to be a better solution than the current situation suggests.