Last year’s news story of a migrant found dead under a bridge in Marsa brought to light an issue which Maltese citizens hadn’t really needed to morally grapple with until then. But now, the issue of homelessness is creeping its way into the foreground of our conscience. So, what’s our real reaction?
“The grim discovery of Haji’s dead body, under the bridge that he had made his home, brought to light the disturbing but all too often hidden reality of poverty and homelessness among migrants in Malta,” an army of NGOs wrote in a press statement back in December 2016.
The story elicited the usual mixed-bag of responses, many pointed out the shelters that do exist, some ignored the issue completely and just focused on immigration, whilst others mourned the fact that something like this could have happened in Malta.
Cut to January 2017, just around a month after the Marsa bridge story happened, and a post appears on the popular Facebook group, The Salott. It highlighted a local man’s encounter with a homeless person in Paceville.
The original poster describes giving the man some money, and goes on to point out that if ever passer-by were to also donate some cash, the homeless man would be able to have a liveable amount of money in his pocket per week.
Malta is, relatively speaking, a complete newcomer to the moral standpoint on giving cash to homeless people on the street. Beyond our shores, people have to face that grating decision on a daily, hourly, sometimes even momentary basis.
For a Maltese person abroad, one nano-second presents a flood of questions rushing through their brain when encountering a homeless person on the street:
If I give them money will it encourage them not to seek help?
Will they spend it on drugs and alcohol?
Who am I to judge what they spend it on?
How did they get here?
Why should I give them money I worked for?
How could I possibly give something to every person in need I see?
If I don’t give them something, does it make me a terrible person?
Why do I deserve to be warm and safe while others aren’t?
How easily could I end up on the street?
What if I lost my job and defaulted on my loan today?
Are they really homeless or just acting?
By the time you’ve settled on a value system that you’re almost half convinced you’re comfortable with, you’re already ten metres away from the reason you’ve gone through this thought-process in the first place.
But on our own streets, is it different?
For a Maltese person abroad, one nano-second presents a flood of questions rushing through their brain when encountering a homeless person on the street. But on our own streets, is it different?
Whilst many reacted to the original poster’s story with positive remarks, others, were less on board.
“It’s illegal to be on the streets.. there is help out there. Sorry but I’d never give money cos it just gets more people to do it,” one commenter said. Giving into a familiar case of paranoia that the Maltese culture has displayed on many a moral issue. Whilst others claimed they would only give money to a Maltese charity, or charitable cause.
“It’s illegal to be on the streets.. there is help out there.”
But a public Facebook post about an orphaned boy which surfaced a few days ago throws the whole moral dilemma into a deeper question. One which touches on whether Malta actually does have the services equipped and available for children and adults to avoid homelessness.
The 18-year-old boy is described in the post as a problem-child who has been a victim to bullying throughout his childhood, and has never really had a stable home. The original poster recounts her efforts to find a home for the boy – a process which seems far less clear cut than some would hastily make it out to be.
In truth, we have no clue how to deal with this problem. Even the select few who are vocalising and acting on their knee-jerk concerns and some point or another take pause to try to understand how to navigate this unchartered moral terrain.
We do need the help of the government, policy makers, NGOs, and yes – the victims themselves, to help us understand what we even think about how to tackle homelessness in our own minds. here’s hoping the problem doesn’t get much worse before we manage to do that.