Life & Travels Afloat in our Moody
It is winter here in Johannesburg, and as I write the wind and rain is lashing the windows, we had hail earlier, there are snow warnings in the mountains, and the hot water bottles we bought fairly rapidly on our return to SA are filled up each night to warm our toes. But what of the homeless and beggars?
The regular appearance of a teenager at church on Sunday evenings started a probe into “what can be done”. Dressed in shorts, tee shirt and sweat shirt, and this year shoes as well, he is a very sad sight. Sometimes he has a blanket, sometimes it has disappeared. We see him at the robots (traffic lights) or in the shopping centre periodically, but he joins us during the “Get Real” service most Sundays, and is given a hot drink, some food and often clothing.
After a meeting with one of the charities, we learnt that most of the street kids have been failed by school. Often poor schools don’t (or are unable to) assess children with educational or behavioural difficulties, so they aren’t picked up. They start skipping school and then mix with the wrong elements, often ending up on drugs. (I suspect this is the same story in many countries around the world, even if the children aren’t so visible.) They might be lucky and go to a children’s home, but many can’t cope with routine and responsibility, so go back to the streets turning their back once again on safety, food, clothes and education.
Then there is the smartly dressed gentleman who attends a different service. He runs a small organisation having dealings in a number of African countries. He fell behind with bond (mortgage) payments and lost his house and everything in it. He has a deal happening at the moment and is waiting to be paid, but in the meantime, he and 300 others are sleeping in a park near the new business district of Johannesburg, Sandton. Sadly his phone was stolen the other day, but someone is kindly giving him an old phone so he can carry on.
There are no easy answers. People are losing jobs and homes daily. If you give money, in many cases it will be used for drugs, or go to a guy hiding round the corner collecting from his workers. If you give food, it might be sold, or I heard of people asking for the receipt and then taking it back to the supermarket to get the money. If you give clothes or blankets, often these too will be gratefully accepted, but then sold and the next day they appear scantily clothed again. We give cereal bars. You can tell those that are really hungry; they open and eat them straight away. Often we get it wrong, but one can but try.
As for the teenager, the antibiotics for his chest infection, and the shoes he was given a week ago, supposedly “got stolen”, but by the time he told me this, I had heard from a pavement cobbler, that “his chest is rotten because of all the drugs he gets from the Nigerians in such and such a building, and if the Police went in they could close it down”. Sadly he hasn’t been seen since. Often we get it wrong, but again, one can buy try….