Yes, Danger & Homeless People. But Who’s Scared – And Who is Scaring?

a partly dressed young man mixes with traffic
This scene was created by affordablehousingaction.org and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

So let’s be honest here. How frightening are unhoused people? Sure, everyone has discomfort, even fear, when some person screams a loud and crazy litany of nonsense from (with any luck) the other side of the street (or from the middle, if the name of the angry game includes holding up the traffic).

Does all of this ugly moment seem be at least partly aimed at you?  Does a fight-or-flight response lead you you tuck your chin to your chest as you shrink and move on, hoping to dodge a possible personal attack?

Needless to say, this experience grows more commonplace as the unhoused in your community increase in numbers. Of course you might think, the unhoused are indeed dangerous!

Except, we’d like to propose that you’ve got your understanding of this daunting scene basically wrong.

You and your supposedly well-behaved, well-housed, buddies viewing this scene might not be as innocent as you imagine. Indeed, you might very well be the bad guys. And those tent-and-sidewalk-dwelling folks that you imagine to be a danger to you? They are more likely to be the victims of people like you.

Bear with us as we move this idea to Durban, South Africa. There, as everywhere, it is hard to accurately count the people who are unhoused. (There are no home addresses to check out, remember.) Nevertheless best research suggest that currently the Durban region includes some 16,000X unhoused.

Can you imagine the horror of trying to navigate such a crowd of supposed crazies flooding the downtown streets of your community?

Most places, it’s unlikely to happen (yet). Nor can you find those kinds crowds of un-housed threatening fine, upstanding (and housed) Durban citizens. So where are all of these 16,000,unhoused?

Many will be hiding. Hiding from the bad guys. Those are not necessarily their fellow victims. They may indeed be hiding from comfortably housed folks like you who may very well be the true threat to the unhoused.

Suppose you and your well-mannered glad-to-help-out besties are not the social soothers you might imagine yourself to be. Suppose you and your supposedly beleaguered buddies are, deliberately or not, agents of terror towards the people who are unhoused?

For more on the violence directed at the people who are unhoused in Durham, the following article features a study done by Nosipho Mthembu that discusses the systematic anti-unhoused violence that is perpetrated against those who are homeless. Read more in IOL: Study tackles the ignored violence against Durban’s homeless people

Of course, you may wish to magnify your own experience of feeling threatened by ‘street crazies’ into some form of rationale that makes South Africans and Durban Citizens evil aberrants, not the humane, sensitive inhabitants such as yourself and those of your particular neighbourhood.

Maybe so, but there plenty of one-off examples of bad behaviour to suggest that Durban is no more abusive to the unhoused than any other country in the world. Except of course for those individuals who are apparently ‘the exception that proves the rule’, such as the man featured in this American article. Try this example from YouTube: NJ councilman urged to resign amid allegations he assaulted homeless people on street | NBC New York

And just to show that we at affordablehousingaction.org, as well as our nation — Canada — have little to feel superior about here are two articles from the Canadian observatory on homelessness — The Homeless Hub: Trauma And Victimization and Criminalization Of Homelessness