Homelessness: What are the issues?


07-July-2012

 Viewed with either disgust or pity we usually assume that they are homeless and something needs to be done about them. Agreeing fully with the latter, it should be also understood that these men and women who wander the streets, begging all day are not homeless but vagrants. Homeless by definition is the condition of people without regular dwelling because they are unable to acquire or maintain regular, safe and adequate housing. It also applies to people who sleep rough in public or private spaces that are not designed for sleeping purposes.

Statistics of various organisations, including the social affairs department have determined that the vagrants have families, relatives or friends taking care of their wellbeing and also being assisted financially by the Social Protection Agency as family support. However, as most of these individuals have an addiction problem, they are not provided with pocket money by their care takers for obvious reasons. Therefore, begging in areas such as the town centre where there are maximum people is the last resort. Like clockwork, these vagrants, leave Victoria every evening and set off to their place of residence among their families, relatives or friends.

Another group in need of special attention are those men and women who are more difficult to identify during the day but more apparent at night when the town has quieten down and the streets are empty. From the observance of the social affairs department, the police and the “Joshua Generation” of the Anglican Church, there are 20 of such individuals in the vicinity of Victoria. However, the figures could be more alarming as those individuals sleeping rough prefer to remain aloof for fear of being harassed or assaulted by other people.

In 2006, cases of people sleeping in the rough reported by the police from all districts of Mahe were 93 males and 21 females. It should be noted that men are more affected, while it is easier for women without a dwelling to be accommodated by religious institutions or friends. Around Victoria, the Bel Air cemetery, the children’s playground, derelict buildings and dark street corners are places where this vulnerable group hang around.

People become homeless or sleep in the rough because of their personal circumstances or factors beyond their control. Often, the loss of a job, the death of a relative who happened to be the owner of the property where the person was staying, mental illnesses, alcohol and drug addictions are the main culprit of such unfortunate circumstances. Research has shown that, substance addiction is the main reason for people to sleep in the rough in Seychelles and the numbers are rising. Despite the presence of family and friends, in situations of mental illnesses and substance addictions, these individuals are unruly and unresponsive, leading to disruptive relationship with their loved ones causing them to prefer sleeping in the rough.

Alarmed by the rise in substance addiction and the need of such individuals, all partners, including the public, private and NGOs are joining forces to ensure the safety of the individuals sleeping rough and also the safety of the general public. It is very difficult to assist this vulnerable group of the population as their substance addiction and their habit of sleeping rough may hinder any attempt at intervention work from being successful. Appropriate protective services are under consideration but the question that arises is “how willing are the families, to give a helping hand?” Even the creation of a night shelter, will not necessarily mean that it will be the solution.

Accommodating people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems can be a difficult experience because they do not respond well to being told what to do including respecting house rules such as taking regular showers, no drugs or alcohol in the house, curfews etc. They are erratic and cannot keep to appointments or unable to work because of their inability to keep a regular schedule. Their social habits or difficulties make it hard for them to obtain or remain in work, to live with others or even to maintain relationships.

Families, relatives and friends of people who have mental illnesses or substance abuse problems are advised to seek help from their churches, the social services or the department of health to prevent cases of family members being “homeless” or “sleep in the rough”.

At a time that there is a call for social renaissance, families have an important role to play in ensuring that the transformation of the society we live in materialise. Our family values such as love and care for our parents, children, brothers and sisters must always be safeguarded and be a protection against the many social ills we, as a nation is faced with today. There should be a collective effort of which the family is the key partner and the other agencies will join and provide supportive services where required.

A contribution from the social affairs department
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