Homelessness is not surprising, but its face has changed

Homeless Paris 6 - 1

Visitors to Europe expect to see sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum and remnants of the Berlin Wall.  Probably most also are little surprised to see homeless individuals on the street.

But the sight of homeless (presumably) whole families like the ones in three of my photos here can be jarring.  I know that I was shocked to see them in Paris despite having closely followed the depressing news about the situation from Australia to Malta and from Italy to Germany as well as elsewhere.  Not incidentally, the immigration scandal in the U.S. was top of mind.

Homeless Paris 1-5 - 3Homeless Paris 1-5 - 5When we walk by a lone homeless man or woman, I suspect that many of us generally attribute their plight to alcohol, drugs, mental illness or some combination of them.  Plenty of them are visible on the streets of cities around the world, including those I visited.

While it may be tempting to look down on them for sliding into the canyons of despair, even should we drop some change into a paper cup, arguably it also is incumbent on us to appreciate how difficult their lives must have been in the past and how painful they must find their lives now.  You can see four of them just below, one being counseled in Edinburgh

You will find no insights about the issue here nor solutions to an intractable and utterly complex problem.  Yet I feel compelled to report that coming across families squatting on the streets of Paris in unseasonably cool weather was disturbing.  Is that better for parents than leaving their children behind or sending them ahead?  There is no way I can know.

I have to confess that I was even more disturbed by the families than by the single souls sitting on the sidewalks of Edinburgh, London and other cities, where passersby determinedly or blindly ignored them as they do everywhere.

I assume that the families had fled deprivation and depraved indifference to life.  To me, it is beside the point whether families undertake their brutal journeys to preserve their lives or to permit a better life free of economic distress or an oppressive government.  Since they opt for a migrant’s struggles, virtually each of them personifies the expression “damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”

As for the individuals living without their families, I suspect they are bent on escaping other demons.  I am indifferent whether they landed in miserable circumstances because they resorted to alcohol or drugs.  It just doesn’t matter to me.

It is a crying shame that anyone, anyone at all, has to live on the streets for whatever reason, right?

Email: malcolmncarter@gmail.com

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