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What do the homeless need?

 Prosto Neba (Ukraine) 29 March 2019

“Our state very much embraces a 'cruel to be kind' philosophy. When a child falls and hurts his knee he begins to cry, but you should nevertheless scold him for his carelessness. This is how we were raised by our parents and teachers. And this is how we, as adults, now relate to the homeless.” (822 Words) - By Marianna Sokha


Prosto Neba

 Courtesy of Prosto Neba

Appeals to help the homeless are often met with the same response - what do I owe them? That is their life, this is mine. We choose our own social environment, shunning those who fall short of our own success. It takes just the slightest effort to fence oneself off from all of the misfortunes in the world, provided they don't directly affect us.

Sometimes I think that negative or indifferent attitudes towards homelessness stem from the fact that we blame them for their condition. We resent the fact that they have given up, that they made the wrong decision somewhere along the way. First and foremost we must forgive the homeless for being weaker than us.

Our gallant government clerks simply cannot pardon the reeking homeless for coming into their clean offices, perfumed with the smell of aftershave and coffee, and spoiling their quiet working day. Their salaries are not, after all, dependent on the number of people they help or on the quality of the assistance they provide.

Without a doubt the easiest option is simply to close our eyes to the problem or to cast the responsibility on someone else. That's what the police do. Whenever you take homeless people or former prisoners by the hand and bring them to the police to get them registered and put on the books (for nearly all have been living without documents for many years), you are told that you are simply making work. And besides, ex-cons are potential criminals. It's up to the police to chase after them. And it's easier for the police to process them if they do not have any documents. Ambulances refuse to take homeless people with scabies, for fear that other passengers would get infected. They are told to get the bus to hospital. Are the people of Ukraine being separated into castes?

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development is opening new centres for the homeless. It says that all homeless people need to be put on the books, given documents declaring their homeless status and only then will they be helped. One must remain vigilant, and ensure that the homeless are not exploiting our compassion; we must verify the fact that they are homeless and make sure they deserve this assistance.

If an ordinary person trying to get a passport must produce one pile of papers, a homeless person must produce two, and, just like at confession, enumerate all his mistakes. Just imagine, to get a passport a homeless person must provide all relevant information about their level of education, illnesses and homelessness. You might reasonably wonder why such detailed information is required simply to get a passport which just confirms your identity. Well, this is the humiliating punishment meted out to those without documents.

And every government agent considers it their duty to interrogate the powerless - where have you been up to now? Do you drink? Why did you separate from your wife? How have you been living for such a long time without paperwork? Our state very much embraces a 'cruel to be kind' philosophy. When a child falls and hurts his knee he begins to cry, but you should nevertheless scold him for his carelessness. This is how we were raised by our parents and teachers. And this is how we, as adults, now relate to the homeless.

On 'People's Court', a popular populist show on the TV channel Inter, someone suggested that they homeless are nothing but parasites. How they all cheered! They eat from our bins, crawl into our basements - classic parasites. And the local council goes so far as to give them gruel (while remaining concerned not to appear too soft on them or to make too much of a habit of this). Just think, these are our taxes paying for their gruel, as one 'expert' pointed out on the show. Has it not occurred to you, Mr Expert, how many of our politicians live off our taxes? And you certainly wouldn't feed them gruel - they aren't the sort of parasites to each such food. And yet they do not serve any greater purpose; if anything, they do more harm. The political parasite can vote against the opening of new homeless shelters, so that his wife's company gets planning permission for the proposed site, and he can still convince everyone that this works out best for all.

One famous Lvov writer and fabulist recently spun another yarn - opening more homeless shelters, he asserted, actually increases the number of homeless people. Of course, who wouldn't leave their comfortable home to sleep on a nice hard mattress with one towel shared between ten people, windows with bars across then and twenty five to a room. The reality is that such shelters are not bastions of luxury - they simply enable the homeless to survive by giving them a warm place to sleep and basic medical attention. Perhaps this was that to which our writer friend was so vehemently opposed.

Shelters do not increase the number of homeless people - they simply decriminalize the status of the homeless. These people are society's problem so something must be done, even if doing nothing seems like the more appealing proposition. For years now our politicians have tried to convince us that we do not have an endemic homelessness problem here in Ukraine; if the odd person finds himself on the streets, it's probably the life he has chosen for himself. We are as uncomfortable talking about the homeless now as we were with the subject of sex in the Soviet Union.

Of course as we drift off to sleep in our warm clean beds, it's better not to think that outside there is someone on the street with wet feet, wind howling around them, stomach hungrily rumbling and no one to talk to but the voice inside their head.  But if you find your mind pondering, just for one moment, what we might do to help such people, it will be our small victory.

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