Monday, April 22, 2024

THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Consider the homeless

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There were points in my career when I slept in chairs, tables and even on the ground.
In 1995 when Hurricane Luis swept through the Caribbean, a media team hitched a ride into Antigua with the regional emergency response unit to report on the damage there. The situation was such that journalists were forced to spend the night in the airport which had suffered some damage. We had to creatively make our beds using tables or chairs and whatever objects were in the room.
Another time I spent hours in some tall grass as police carried out a manhunt.
In all these cases I had some control over the situation and sleeping conditions. Those instances involved emergency cases and I might have been able to accept or decline.
But recently I spent some nights observing the homeless in and around The City  as part of the WEEKEND NATION’s Eye Witness column. Some conversations with the homeless and those who look after them were eye-openers.
But it was Mitchinson Brathwaite’s opinion that stood out. He didn’t imagine he would be homeless in Barbados. But he said it could happen to anyone.
Anyone!, he emphasized. That means me or you.
You might assume that it could only be through some indifference on the part of the homeless that contributed to their circumstances. But Brathwaite insisted that one day everything could be going well and then tragedy strikes. Fire, flood any natural disaster or the man-made job loss, an overwhelming medical bill, an inordinate expense or a once well-off person going broke.
The other more obvious causes of homelessness are drugs and/or a mental condition.  
However, try the following scenario: Start preparing for bedtime by getting out old newspapers, pieces of cloth, cardboard boxes and other bedtime objects. Spread them in the outdoors near a road or an area where you are sure to be sharing your accommodation with rats, roaches and any other vermin or insects that happen along.
Now lie down on that makeshift bed and settle in for the night under the stars hoping and praying that the weather holds up.
Some of the homeless we came across showed little concern for their surroundings or safety. Which one of you, readers, believe that you can survive the outdoors. Yes, we watched the Survivor series and can go camping. Again, we are in charge in this situation and can pull up stakes and go home or we can shut off the television.
In our comfort zone we are king, invincible. But take away our basic needs, shelter, clothing and food, how will we cope under those circumstances?
It is a frightening thought and one we do not want to entertain. But we must if we are to be an understanding society.
So from time to time we have to think about the prospects of being homeless. Never believe that it cannot happen to us. Think about what compassion we may want extended to us.
I am not speaking about indulging the homeless which is a concern for one organization. Supplying too many of a person’s needs leaves them dependent on the source and unwilling to take charge of their situation.
Being a bit more sympathetic to the cause and giving a helping hand wherever possible under the advice of the experts is part of the solution.
The dark of night truly covers up a lot of things which we cannot ignore during the day. At night before we settle in, we are not thinking about the homeless; our thoughts are closer to home but that may change.
• Antoinette Connell is the DAILY NATION Editor.

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