The Colourless Quilt: This is not an enhanced picture of few celebrities appearing on magazine covers or on display at a wax museum lighter than their real skin tone. Even Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor whose parents are from India, and whose portrait hangs in the state Capitol. His skin tone appears lighter than in life.
These canvasses are ubiquitously recalibrating a once dark period in our history where the reflection of slavery lingers. It further highlights an abundance of bleaching cream being used across Caribbean, poor and developing regions for lighter appearance while ignoring the long-term health risk of skin cancer. This ghost that accentuates that beauty has not yet been defined and remains a shadow. Until some segments of our social media stop applying shades of beauty, many will continue seek hidden brushes.
However, her colour this season is not her pigmentation. This quilt is called “homelessness”. Today more women find themselves under bridges, train stations on hard, hot, and cold sidewalks. Quietly an annihilation has taken place, not even a Cover Girl mascara can mask these rough spots. One tends to believe that perhaps her pride or even stubbornness has contributed to what has become an open studio apartment that stretches a full block where many pass through daily, include well-groomed pets on a leash that is hastily pulled back from its curiosity to get close to her.
No! I do not hate dogs.
What if she found peace under this bridge from an abusive husband, incest, arranged marriage, or female genital mutilation or simply for being a lesbian? It is difficult to judge her for only a few seconds after being awoken from the sound of your six-inch heels hitting the pavement where she lays still under the blanket. Many more visitors will take off running when her head suddenly pops up from the disturbance. Cautiously one chuckles, but is it funny or sad? Few have become immune from few dollars handed out before and weeks of saying hello or a silent nod as one walks to the metro.
Her Mirror: Late December as the Northeast cold began to find its home on this block. Despite a warm expensive coat, buckling up was not an option, with my Blackberry in hand, It was another simple gesture of kindness with few dollars to spear. Silently on many occasions, one contemplates that same $2 on the $250-million lottery jackpot sign few feet away. However, her chance at a hot meal where scores of food trucks lined the street across where she calls home weighed heavily on one’s conscience. Today, she won. Carefully her stiff blanket pulled back as I place few dollars in her hand, pulling slightly my head backward to escape a foul odour that emitted from her direction.
She paused and looked, and said, “It wasn’t always this way”
Her stretched hand remains me of a mechanic’s hand from a recent oil change. Her once perfect teeth also began to look like the colour of her blanket. Navigating the cold wind as it bounced off the buildings on to my face from the path of a reportedly abandoned $100 million-plus street trolley project few blocks away that has failed, and all that remains is a rail track in the street, you wonder what the real priority of our leaders is.
Suddenly, a tweet arrived, and read, “The dress code for the winter is.”
I replied quickly, “Dress code again for the homeless this winter, a single dirty blanket that matches the colour of the street.”
Her Street Closet: The street remains crowded, but these blankets are invisible on this block. Maybe if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas, a famous person hands out a meal, or 5 degrees, or an election season then more would take notice, but an hour later the camera diminishes, as fast as she heads back under the blanket.
Hours later the cycle starts over again. This time she stepped away from the living room. It is clear that she likes classiness. The blanket lays flat, carefully folded with a black plastic bag, or a broken down luggage case tucked in the corner. You walk by and hoped no one moves her stuff until she gets back. Tomorrow, a new face has emerged. She sat few feet of this blanket with her little bag. You wonder what happen to the one you saw few days ago. Has she been raped, abused, moved to another place?
It is now Friday evening and the street begins to quiet down. The new gentrification route to expensive condominiums makes her look like a speed bump. Sadly, she is not alone. Across many white sand beaches in the Caribbean and other regions, as night-falls and local shops and food markets close, as the beach clubs come alive, the leftover rotten fruits and vegetables become her friends and only meal for survival.
Life in this homeless blanket for her provides warmth at sunset, heat from the cold, and a set of ear plugs from roaring vehicles and train dust above. It shields when a few idle kids happen to be in the area, and protects her once beautiful face and hair. The only constant in this new life is the temperature outside that never fades.
What is the Colour of Homelessness: Not all homeless women on the street have internal family conflicts. Most studies show that homelessness emerged as a public concern in the United States and in other industrialized countries in the late 1970s. As streets became more populated, some began encountering people living on the street-sides. Often society conceptualizes homelessness as a black issue.
Nevertheless, it affects all races. The national center on family homelessness reported 60 percent of homeless women have children under 18, compared to 40 percent of homeless men. A homeless mother is nine times more likely than fathers to be caring for at least one of those children.
The stigma that all homeless people are nuisance, or lunatics, especially in poor and developing countries must be debunked. Disasters such as the 2008 collapse of the global economy, and neglect by government are also a contributing factor. For example, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, or the earthquake in Haiti, many students suffered with difficulties to recover. Some lost parents, and became vulnerable to sexual abuse from having to live with strangers. Recently, according to the Department of Education, a record high number of homeless students were enrolled in US public schools. These children often have difficulties in school, are withdrawn, and lack confidence.
The criminalization makes them scared despite the need for help. Beneath these blankets are abused women, or one who has mental issues as many consistently have personal imaginary conversations of an unresolved issue one may or not have with the government or a family member.
Approaching these woman, some rather take a detour to avoid for one’s perceived safety. However, regardless that does not cut the hundreds of thousands each night according to the US Department of Urban Development. Homelessness cuts across all continents. Australia has also passed legislation that is providing help in the form of accommodation, meals, laundry and shower facilities, and information and advice. For poor countries, it remains a deep struggle.
Getting her back home: Medical centers often see a high number of emergencies from this population. One report noted that they should be equipped to manage substance abuse, and mental illness. Philadelphia University noted, “Most efforts to aid them centered on reforming their behavior and not addressing structural economic issues.” People are considered homeless if they do not live in what we consider normal for habitation. Support for victims, and investment in affordable housing is key. Several homeless women are employed and the need for a minimum wage increase, as studies have shown, can create a positive transition.
Today, major cities worldwide have adapted to the new world economy, where most of these private and government functions are being conducted in a few buildings where the transformation young and talented people live. They share similar ideology and are often rich and expensive. The irony is that they cannot escape a homeless person a few blocks away, as affordable housing has decreased while the numbers of homeless people are increasing. Visitors and residents must be protected and enjoy their vacations. However, one should not be abused for profit. Inside the service economy on many coastlines, they are isolated and abused in a segregated zone. It is disturbing to see this vulnerability being scorned like an alien as if one is invading these new prestigious towns with a virus.
Our Responsibility: During the month of March, women’s accomplishments are celebrated. What will the next 20 years look like on this block? The cry for social justice and the centrality of women remain essential globally. If about 18 million school age women are out of school as the World Bank has reported; it needs more than law enforcement. Where are the social workers, civic and advocate groups beyond the sidewalk to get them behind a desk?
As a male, I do not claim to know what is best. However, I understood that this award illustrates relevance where relationships form and diversity emerges and strategies for the next year. However, their vulnerabilities from barbaric ideology, intolerance, location, or social stratification need more attention. Their right to exist cuts across borders. However, especially in poor and developing countries, family pride, lack of resources, guilt, shame, and ignorance often cause severe detachment.
Today, many cities have traded playgrounds, counselling centers and sidewalks for bike lines, and condominiums and dog parks. While you are out for another walk or run with a well dressed pet for an outfit next season, remember that folded blanket on the sidewalk because it does not take much to trade places.