Where Will The Homeless Stay During This Lockdown?

By Jegede Joseph

Under the bridge, in street corners, on doorways, in free public spaces then to waking up before dawn to use cheap public bathrooms or opt for open defecation - this is what shelter means to the homeless.

After this ritual, the older ones disappear into the street to find their daily bread, mainly a day’s job and survive on it proceeds, living the lyrics of the song “One Day E Go Beta”. But how will they cope in a time like this? Who caters for their welfare during this lockdown?

At nightfall, the homeless are the direct receivers of moonlight, they know the rhythm of the night, sometimes they are comforted by stargazing which ends in ecstatic sleep, they shiver through cold nights, juggle through shattered umbrellas and blankets, they camp in uncompleted buildings and hide under thin bushels on rainy days, while some have no choice but to be drenched.

Since the lockdown, public toilets are hardly functional, public spaces are rarely open and the most important aspect, Survival. How do they survive with no money, no job, no loads to carry? The streets of Lagos are empty, no hustling and bustling, no one to beg from, they just sit and watch with hands akimbo.

How are they handling hunger, how many of them will be reached by the palliative measures of the government? From those reached so far, how many can be sustained in a time like this? How about those with school-aged children with no access to electricity, the internet or Tv for online classes? Can we just neglect this section of the society and keep silent?

According to data published by the Sun Newspaper on January 19, 2018, Nigeria has a housing deficit of 17 million units and about 108 million homeless Nigerians, these figures include those displaced by natural disasters, violence and poverty. These are Nigerians who also believe in the Nigerian dream, families raising children that will lead us someday. Yet, we are very far from addressing this issue. As of 2018, Nigeria provides less than 100,000 housing units per year as against the 700,000 advised by experts.

There is a huge challenge for the homeless in Lagos. As one of the 3 States experiencing total lockdown for over 4 weeks, there is a need for more people to get involved in helping the destitute and homeless around us. We can expand the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo that “The children of the poor you failed to train will never let your children have peace” for the homeless we fail to help today will make peace far from us in the days to come.

This is not an article that plans to stop at extolling our challenges and weaknesses in helping the homeless, it goes beyond numbers or government actions and inactions on this issue, it is a call to reach out as individuals to the homeless in a time like this. We need to answer the question - How will the homeless survive during this lockdown?

How can you help the homeless during this lockdown?

Acknowledge and Engage:
We need to admit the fact that there are homeless people around us, and they need our help no matter how small it is. It is about being deliberate, rather than tagging them as beggars, we should get involved.

Use your skills to get involved
Many are really interested in helping the homeless but they don’t know how to help or where to help from. We need to start with what we have, volunteer to teach them new skills while remembering to keep social distancing, help them with what we have - cook good food for them and with them if possible, help them mend their clothes, provide them with necessary information.

Be ready to help anytime
One of the greatest gifts we can give others is the gift of time, we need to be willing and ready to help the homeless anytime we see they are in need. Most of the time our own convenience is not suitable for them. So we need to go the extra mile.

Ask Questions
We need to ask where they need help and not just assume, one of my voluntary outreach to the homeless went sour as the food we provided was rejected, because we fail to ask the right questions about their needs before going for the outreach.

We need to give too! Donations are not just about money. We can give other things - food supplies, household goods, medical supplies, and information. Information is one of the reasons some are homeless, they need to know about the latest housing scheme or other organizations focused on helping the homeless.

Donations to organizations helping the homeless in a time like this will go a long way.

Don’t give up after one bad experience

This is very important, especially when we have experienced hostile homeless people. Some of them are just scared of how they will be treated, we need to be seen as someone they can trust.

Advocate For Affordable Housing
Join the campaign for cheaper housing, the average conducive apartment in Lagos is between N150,000 and N200,000 and other levy by house owners and caretakers. We need to join the campaign.

Safety first while helping out
In a time of this pandemic, it is very important to obey health regulations and other safety rules in helping the homeless.

We need to get involved, we need be part of those putting smiles on people’s faces.

Jegede Joseph writes from Lagos

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