Location:  India • South Africa • CHILE

“Not everyone can handle a life like this.”

Ashmira lovingly patted a piece of trodden cardboard for me to have my seat. The paper was no cleaner than the pavement nor did it prevent my clothes from getting dirty any more than the ground did, but to her this was her rug. I looked around and observed the details of their home. The nail on the wall: their clothes hook, the tin attached to the tree: their soap holder, the tarpaulin sheet: their waterproof cover for their hoarded belongings. As I sat, a circle of bodies formed around me. Toes were stood on, hair was played with and hands were grasped lovingly. Within no time at all a small-framed child, desperate for affection, was sitting on my lap.

Throughout our travels, we have seen homelessness vary from country to country. In Canada we were exposed to the homelessness that our Western upbringing had introduced us to already, people sleeping on park benches or sitting on roadsides quietly asking for spare change. In other countries we saw different expressions of people surviving without having four walls to call home. We have met families that live on the edge of busy pavements and people that live on the edge of working train tracks. Amongst these different appearances of homelessness there have been some common threads, the most major of these being high-threat living environments and the consequential vulnerability. These people aren’t sheltered from unprovoked acts of violence, abuse or robbery. These people aren’t sheltered from the annual monsoon season or exposure to sickness and disease. Life is dictated by survival of the fittest, and truly, the lack of being streetwise could cost one their life.

Living on the streets, or along train tracks, offers routine and community just like other places to live do. Homelessness comes with the education of how to survive, who to avoid and how to remain inconspicuous. Sometimes, it can be hard to turn away from a way of life that you’ve learned to master. Whilst limited opportunities can lead people out of four walls and onto the street, homelessness itself prevents opportunity and so the vicious cycle continues.