For the past four months, my appeals for officials to focus on plights of the homeless have been ignored, most often they offer a smile, then followed by silence. Its partly, as they claim, the bureaucracy of funding allocation, of the lack of money, then the human resources needed for such a mobilization and the other part, a sense of social-class prejudice against the undesirables.
Inaction, that’s the name of their game, especially when it comes to marginalized communities, such as the homeless folks. Not just officials, even some outreach workers, are prone to embracing a judgemental perception, that wicked stereotype of the wandering beggar, the vagrant.
I’ve proposed, during the times of summer and now the approaching rainy season, that officials pay more attention to an intervention plan. I’m tired of listening to the grand national “road-maps” of the country, while seeing nothing materialising on rights-based social protection mechanism for the marginalized communities. But similar to my own country, this “same-same” behaviour, officials and wannabe politicians are not keen to aid the homeless, whether they are locals, stateless or foreigners.
As a result, the concept of preparedness is not in their vocabulary, nor in the agenda of their lavish monthly inter-agency meetings. Heatwave, rain, flood, public health, or whatever, are usually mentioned when there’s a direct association to the corporations, the elites and their middle-class. An intervention to protect or assist a vagabond? No, that’s definitely not in their To-Do-List.
So are cities prepared to respond to a heatwave or a flash flood? In truth, no. What is usually not reported in the mainstream media, are the casualties and the sufferings of the homeless during such times. Services prepared by city hall are often designed to promote tourism and enable the middle-class to enjoy the cycle of comfort.
Based on the outcome of outreach and rapid needs assessments, homeless people are especially vulnerable in heatwave because of:
- Heat exhaustion, which leads to heat stroke. They are exposed to the heat and extreme humidity, for long hours.
- Some are mistaken for sleeping when they are in fact unconscious or incapacitated by poor health.
- Poor mental health; often ignored by passer-bys and authorities for fear, inaccurately of course, of a violent backlash from the “crazy, mumbling man”. Counselling services are not adequate and often by inexperienced social workers.
- Substance use, whether from, in this case of high frequency, glue-sniffing, heroin, yaba and/or alcohol. Where is harm reduction in this equation?
Social isolation, prejudice and the lack of political will prevents the homeless from their basic rights, such as a shelter, medical attention. I have not seen a consultative process between the authorities and the homeless people, yet many know through such engagement you can find positive outcomes, and effective collaborations that actually meet the issues, needs and concerns of all sides.
Homelessness is not a new societal problem. With increasing urbanization and migration, and the continued ignorance of basic human rights, cities and their urban population will see the cycle of poverty intensifying. But by then, it would be too late to react.