The Everyday Struggles Faced by Homeless People
No matter who we are or what path in life we're walking, we all have our own issues and struggles. Often, they are unseen ones that we try to keep to ourselves. Sometimes a private battle is one we are better equipped to handle, affording us the time and distance from other people so we can try and solve it.
Unfortunately, this is something that the homeless people in our community are unable to do. Their struggle is one the world sees and refuses to see, simultaneously. Even the term ‘homeless' creates a stigma between who they are as individuals and how they are perceived. The struggles homeless people face run far deeper than a lack of shelter.
The question is – what can we do about this? Isn't this a problem the government should be dealing with? Surely the local charities are helping them? Isn't it their fault they're homeless? The list of questions is endless, and as the last example shows, they can be narrow-minded and judgemental. Moreover, the question could be changed to this: what can I do to help?
Everyday Struggles Faced by Homeless People –
Being homeless isn't just about a lack of adequate housing or shelter. It's a label given that creates a stigma, sometimes referred to as the marginalisation of people. It's easier to think of people in the sense of the ‘other' because that's how society often works. When someone doesn't fit in, they are pushed to the outer-circle of the community. This turns one homeless person into a collective of people. Their individual identity is replaced with one that is given to an entire group.
Defamation of character is then much more prevalent in this environment. Homeless people are seen as bothersome and eyesores to the aesthetic of the community they exist in. If a crime occurs, the fingers are pointed in their direction first, and questions asked later. Any noise and disruption in the nearby vicinity will conclude with similar results. And this can all lead to a loss of self-worth and a growing unease and anger.
Then there are more practical issues that homeless people face daily. They have limited access to healthcare and medication. This can be exasperated by a lack of nutrition and regular meals. And the chances of illness via exposure to cold conditions only adds to complications with pre-existing health issues. And with regards to mental and social healthcare, the number of government facilities that provide long-term mental health care is limited. Social workers work tirelessly in Cape Town, only to barely maintain a full roster of patients.
Without a permanent address, being able to get an ID is difficult or impossible. The complications this issue alone causes has a domino effect. Without an ID you might not be able to access specific medical care, job placements, employment opportunities or skills training programmes. These are just a few examples of how incredibly difficult life can be without having something most people take for granted: an address.
Another issue that homeless people have is safeguarding their possessions. A lot of the homeless people we work with tell us that they will often take turns to guard each other’s belongings. If someone gets a chance of work or are looking for the next meal, someone will have to stay behind to prevent theft.
A final point that many people don't fully comprehend is how dangerous it can be to be homeless. The risk of substance dependence for homeless people is high. The threat of violence, abuse and rape is something that homeless people are exposed to daily, especially for women.
This is a brief overview of a few selected issues that homeless people face. It's not even close to being thorough or complete. However, positive steps are being taken in our community. And it's possible for you to play your part.
Volunteering, Interning and Community Action's Impact –
Whenever the subject of improving conditions for homeless people arises, it's often met with reservations of what sort of impact one person can have. It's made to sound like an insurmountable issue that can never be solved. At African Sunrise, we see things differently. We believe that every person that volunteers with us makes a significant impact in our community.
Our volunteers and interns are placed with various organisations and NPOs that work with the most vulnerable people in Cape Town. And who are homeless or live in poverty. A lot of our social care interns have the opportunity to introduce their own initiatives and programmes to the organisation they're working with. And our volunteers and interns are ever present within the local community where they make long-lasting friendships and connections.
As we mentioned in previous blogs, many of the volunteers and interns run fundraising campaigns for the organisation or NPO they work with. This is always done by their own initiative and the impact that the money they raise has will last long after they return home. Roofs and building issues are repaired in schools, homes of safety and community centres. Soup kitchens are given new cooking equipment and funds for purchase food. And on a regular basis, the children of our community are treated with days out for their school holidays, all thanks to the fantastic people that volunteer and intern with African Sunrise.
African Sunrise – Be Part of the Change You Want to See in the World –
We created African Sunrise with a goal – to provide meaningful volunteering and internship experiences that had a real impact on our community. To us, every single volunteer and intern adds value to the lives of hundreds, if thousands, of people in Cape Town.
Equality is the cornerstone of a balanced society, and the lack of it is what causes poverty and homelessness. The African Sunrise team knows that it's a daily struggle, but the fight towards a more equal society is a worthy and necessary one.
We can't rely on or wait for people in power to be the answer to the issues we see in our community. It's up to the people who witness the problems to do their part of working towards a solution. And although progress may seem slow, every affirmative action moves us all closer to that ultimate goal.
As Gandhi once said: ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.' This quote sums up how we can all achieve greatness within our community.
If volunteering or interning in Cape Town with African Sunrise sounds like something you'd like to be part of, contact the team today. And watch this space for more interviews and updates from the African Sunrise team.