The number of homeless people in Luxembourg seems to have increased in recent years and there are quite a few people who complain about them.
Sometimes people give me ideas for topics to write about. It’s great because I do not always have something to moan about, ridicule or to address for change. Especially this week as my head was empty for which I blame the horrible cold. My only goal was to keep warm and my only activity was moving about in order to help me achieve that.
So, I was happy with suggestions and one topic that has been suggested to me on more than one occasion is about the homeless in Luxembourg city. The number of homeless people seems to have increased in recent years and there are quite a few people who complain about them.
The exact number of homeless people is unknown but there are some figures available. In an interview in February of this year, the director general of Caritas, Marc Crochet, estimated that there are a few hundred homeless people in Luxembourg. But he also said that over 800 people made use of last year’s ‘Wanteraktioun’, which offers homeless people a place to sleep during the winter months. So that would mean a little more than ‘a few hundred…’.
Even though the numbers are unclear — as the Luxembourgish government has not done any more recent research than 2014 on this topic—the government seems to have great initiatives for the homeless. Such as the aforementioned ‘Wanteraktioun’, as well as ‘Housing First’. Housing First is a government initiative that was created in Finland and aims to provide housing to homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless, without making them jump through hoops in order to be considered.
So, it does seem that the Luxembourg government is trying to get people off the streets, and rightly so. I think it is a disgrace and unacceptable to have people living on the street in Europe’s richest country.
Which is what I assumed the complaints were about when I heard people speaking about homelessness lately. I figured that they meant this in a caring way. You know: ‘Oh, it’s terrible, all these homeless people, especially with winter coming. Is Luxembourg doing enough to help them? Are the government’s initiatives working? And if so, how come we see more and more homeless people in our city centre? What can we do? Imagine having to live like this.’ That sort of thing. Care. Concern.
Shockingly, and to my disgust, many of these remarks are not about care or concern for the homeless but about irritation and vexation. And not towards the government, mind you, but towards homeless people.
They are irritated by people lying on the streets. They are bothered by them begging. They feel agitated when they give them something without a graceful response and they get angry when they pass the same person a second time and that person does not remember them and begs again.
How insensitive are you if you feel irritation instead of sympathy towards a homeless person? What kind of obnoxious idiot are you if you feel the need to complain about not being thanked for giving a few euros to a homeless person? How ignorant are you if you get agitated with a beggar who ‘dares’ to ask for money or food twice? Do you really expect a beggar, or anyone for that matter, to two hours later remember someone they have only seen once in passing?
A few years ago I read an interview with a refugee from Syria. He said that the hardest thing about being a refugee wasn’t not having a place to stay or not knowing when he would eat again. None of that practical stuff.
The most difficult and unpleasant about being a refugee, and as such, homeless and a beggar, was the lack of personal contact. He longed to have someone look him in the eye, smile at him, reach out to him, have a conversation with him. You know, normal human behaviour. He wanted to just be treated as a human being and not as some street dog.
It has stuck with me ever since because it is so heart-breaking and such an important lesson.
If you then listen to people complain about the homeless and the fact that they aren’t thankful enough or don’t remember them, I feel deep shame. Shame for how some of us treat fellow humans and shame for the lack of sympathy, sensitivity, and basic intelligence.
And I wonder, do these ‘complainers’ look at the face of that homeless person? Do their eyes meet? Do they greet them properly, or talk to them?
Unfortunately, I think that most of us walk past quickly, maybe mumbling a short greeting, give some money and walk on again very fast. Because most of us feel uncomfortable. And that is what’s really happening here. It is out of embarrassment that the complainers complain. It is out of feeling uneasy that they do not wish to see homeless people and beggars. It makes them feel guilty for and uncomfortable with their own situation.
And I do not think that there is any bad intent here. Sure, some people probably think they are more deserving than others but apart from those idiots, I am (and want to remain) optimistic that most of us are full of compassion.
We just feel uncomfortable about the horridness of it. The injustice. We want to enjoy ourselves. We want to have a coffee in town without looking at a beggar. We want to go shopping for gifts and not feel guilty when we see a homeless person begging, especially now, in the cold, with Christmas just around the corner.
I know it sounds naïve but please consider this: is it possible that we prefer harshness over discomfort and that we complain left and right in order to not really feel? That we cover up our feelings of injustice and helplessness with feelings of irritation and anger. Simply because it’s easier?
Because we hate to think about all the inequality in the world, especially the inequality that is taking place right under our nose.
Maybe I am wrong. But whatever the reason is for shrugging our shoulders at the unfairness, or looking the other way because we don’t want to see poverty so up-close and in our face, we have to be better than that.
We must replace our vexation or discomfort with warmth and kindness. We must look a beggar or homeless person in the eyes and greet them properly. It doesn’t even matter if we give them something or not, but at least we should treat them with respect and dignity.
And when we come home, and turn on the heating and the lights, we should be very, very grateful for everything we have. And hug our children and hope that they do not end up on the street because that fate could fall on anybody.
Be humble, it’s Christmas!