| by Victor Cherubim
( June 14, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Metal studs/spikes, an inch high, outside luxury offices in London, in the news recently, have hardly deterred people sleeping rough. The “homeless” also happen to be many young employed who cannot raise a deposit, to rent a flat, let alone buy one.
To say they are a statistic is a scandal. To perceive this situation as part of the life scene is a shame. Even the rich and famous can end up on hard times. Ed Mitchell, the famous broadcaster, in his book “From headlines to hard times” relates the story of his growing alcohol dependency and how he slept rough on a beach on Hove, Sussex seafront.
Modern living includes not only the poor, but others as well, who are without a place to sleep in cities. They are the rural poor who are drawn to cities, in search of jobs, who may end up on street pavements. Recent migrants from the new countries of European Union, who come to UK in search of a “new life,” also find the streets of London safe.
What does it take to be literally on the street?
It is hard to imagine how someone can go from having a home one day and be out on the street the next week. Many homeless start out with jobs and stable residences. But then, social and particularly money shortage, “economic necessities” cause a rapid and deteriorating change.
Two main drivers for not having or losing a home are poverty and lack of affordable housing. In the West, it is mainly the latter, but in South East Asia and particularly in Sri Lanka, it generally is the former. Life has left the real poor to cope with make shift shelters, under trees, next to railway lines, near market pavements or away from notice.
A job was the norm for living. A degree which was once a passport for a job, many say will no longer land a graduate a dream job. Only 1 in 3 graduates are expected to secure traditional full time employment after graduation. The new “normal” is to rediscover what truly makes one happy and rethink career goals. This means building a job strategy around volunteering, networking and part-time jobs and at the same time developing “in demand” skills, in what free time is available. Loss of a job is normal as jobs are far less secure than they were in the past, but to buy a home on today’s wages for many, let alone to save a deposit to rent a flat, is out of reach.
People who end up sleeping rough due to their inability to get work to support themselves or who cannot claim Social Security Benefit, lose self esteem, self confidence, loss of their daily routine, and loss of purposeful activity. The loss of family support, social network and sense of security is further worrying.
Helping vulnerable people has been the job of so called “Soup Kitchens.” There are many well known organisations and Homeless Shelters, Salvation Army, Missionaries of Charity Soup Kitchens, Passage Day Centre, St.Mungo’s and Crisis & London Mobile Christmas Service, to name a few, are there to help the helpless.
Affluence and abject poverty
The stark contrast between the above two scenarios is not hard to find in UK, in Sri Lanka or in any other nation. Affluence is a condition of the mind with ostentation and prestige being symbols adorning lifestyle. Abject poverty and destitution is also a mindset of hopelessness, unspoken grief, being lost in a world of plenty, and in search of an identity.
The common factor for both is blame. The affluent blame the poor for their predicament. while the poor are unable to cope with the pace of life and have “forgot” to take their lives forward. The poor, many say, live on the unrealistic expectation of a “fall back” on society.
Sri Lanka rural poverty
Whilst the sleeping bag has become associated with a “state of freedom from responsibility, in the West,” in Sri Lanka, however, rural poverty is still an issue. For the abject poor, job and food poverty have been forced on them not by choice, but by circumstance.
In Sri Lanka, the issue of poverty, specifically rural poverty is unspoken. “As 90% of the poor live in rural areas and over 80% of Sri Lankan population still live in rural areas,” there is naturally a higher level of poverty. Researchers have shown that significant advances in some areas of human welfare compared to other low income countries are noticeable. “A third of the population still remains below the official income poverty line.” This is rapidly changing with economic development in towns and cities, but social change has yet to hit the rural population.
Poverty alleviation has been helping to promote self reliance. New infrastructure development projects and electrification have opened up rural areas. There are more development projects in the pipeline. The question on many minds is whether the benefits of these interventions actually reach those to whom they are intended.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is a “man of the poor,” but the problem is in identifying and locating the real poor, and the needs of the real poor, as the people of Sri Lanka are too proud to be classed as homeless.