A few weeks ago, Fiji Times had an article about how to address the homeless in Fiji that was very discouraging. It is concerning to hear a minister that is tasked with addressing the issue say to not care for the homeless.
The issue of homelessness in the South Pacific is harder to address because of bias related to the issue by the people in these nations. Many of them view poverty as a Western idea that focused on them through colonization. Denial of poverty does not make the issue go away or lessen its grip.
We discourage feeding and I know the minute we say this, people get upset with us that we don’t care about the people. -Sashi Kiran
Yes, people will get upset because as followers of Jesus, we have a moral duty to care for the homeless as Jesus was homeless. We worship a homeless Man who died for the sins of humanity. If we are true worshippers of Christ, we must care for the poor, the homeless, and all marginalized groups within any societal structure.
Therefore, we should be upset when we have an official discouraging people from doing one of the fundamental beliefs of their faith: to serve the poor.
The article quotes her as saying,
It would be nice if those foods are directed to children from broken families who don’t have food in schools, and if foods are directed to schools, this can keep them in school.
This leads to addressing one issue over another and that both don’t need some ministry to them. I am all for making sure that the children get fed while at school (part of what Light the Nations does is feed the poor). However, to say that doing this should equate to letting the homeless starve as a result is hard to understand. Both issues need to be addressed as a society.
It is also worth asking why do we continue to see a rise in broken families in the Islands. This was not the case just a few years ago. There seems to be a rise in divorce in most Pacific nations. What are the drivers? How do we help keep families together and how we do serve the children better when that is not possible?
Homelessness in Fiji is normal and also a product of broken homes. There seems to be a rise in women on the streets in Suva. Is this because of domestic violence? According to the government, 64% of women claim to have been hit at home by a husband or a boyfriend. It would seem there is a tie between them and must be questioned if we want solutions.
Assistant Minister Sashi Kiran said it’s worth noting that a number of these homeless people continue to be fed and use the income they earn from begging to purchase alcohol, glue and cigarettes.
This is a misguided response to why people are homeless and a complete failure to understand how trauma informs homelessness. People who have been traumatized often either fight, flight or freeze. If they do freeze, a desire to numb themselves and the pain can mean leading towards alcohol, drugs, and in Fiji, kava.
In other words, the use of these vices is a band-aid to grasp the trauma. The answer is not to stop the use of the vice but to begin to remove the layers of trauma that they process for recovery. Homelessness is not an economic problem but rather an emotional problem. When people come to understand the emotions of homelessness, as a result, the economics of it change quickly for them as well.
Homelessness in Fiji is not easy answer but serving them is a mandate from the Lord. It starts with understanding them and listening to them. When we do that, our bias are removed and we hear them.