Tackling homelessness must become an urgent priority


About 50,000 people across the globe, from Brisbane to London and Los Angeles, slept rough out of solidarity with the homeless last weekend. They raised millions of dollars and were supported by celebrities such as Dame Helen Mirren and Will Smith.
The media were there reporting. The visuals from the two nights on Trafalgar Square in London will remain ingrained in our collective memory for some time. It was cold, windy and raining. The participants at the “sleep out” emphasized how uncomfortable it was and how relieved they were to go back to their warm and dry homes, where pantries and refrigerators were stacked to the brim.
This was an effective way to raise awareness for the people whose lives are grim and whose plight is dark. The 50,000 participants will certainly not forget about those less fortunate. The pictures, which were aired by the likes of the BBC and CNN, drove the message home to many.
While it is good to raise awareness of the plight of the homeless and raise money for various charities, this is not enough. We live in a world where the rich become ever richer and the poor ever poorer. Despite the technology and innovation in our hands, as well as trillions of dollars chasing investment, there never seems to be enough resources to help the destitute.
Inequality is a big issue in developing countries. The income disparity between the billionaires and politicians, who forge the future of the country, and the poor, who live in shantytowns, could not be starker.
In the developed world, inequality is growing too. It is beyond belief that, in cities like London or Los Angeles, where there is so much wealth and conspicuous consumption, we seem unable to find the resources to house those who have fallen through the cracks of the social security networks. What is even more surprising is that the homeless have become invisible. Busy commuters and affluent shoppers will pass them by without flinching. It is very rare that somebody stops and drops a dollar or a pound into a hat or an outstretched hand.
While it is commendable for 50,000 people to try and raise awareness of the plight of those less fortunate, it will not suffice. Christmas may be the time to pause and be charitable. However, these are rather random, isolated efforts to combat a structural malaise in our societies and the world at large.
World leaders and corporate powerbrokers debate growing global inequality with the leadership of elite nongovernmental organizations at the World Economic Forum in Davos and similarly high-powered conferences. These events offer calls for action, which make the participants feel good as they pontificate from well within their comfort zone. Alas, all too often such resolutions are forgotten once these busy leaders get back to their offices and day jobs.
Poverty and inequality are structural problems that need structural solutions. It cannot be that, every time there are budget cuts due to economic downturns, more and more people and countries are pushed to the margins. Raising awareness is good and a first step, but it does not suffice. We need to find political and financial solutions to help the least fortunate in society. This must become an urgent priority.