It was a busy Monday afternoon in the streets of Nairobi’s central business district. As I walked down the street, I meet some familiar faces. A street family comprised of a woman and her two young children. The youngest looks like she is less than a year old and the little boy following me around asking for money, was about 6 years old. They have been at this location for a few weeks. You can see the sadness in the mother’s face as no one would dream of having their family living in the street, especially with young children.
Like many people, I used to give money to homeless people until last year when I learned about begging cartels. I wondered what other permanent solutions exist to fight homelessness in Nairobi. I also did not want to provide an enabling environment by further promoting these begging cartels. I saw a story in the news about a couple who trafficked disabled people, from neighboring Tanzania and Uganda. They aimed to use them, to beg for money in different parts of the city. The couple gave them a meal at the end of the day and a place to sleep which was inhumane.
When I met Alex, who works for an organization that fights human trafficking I further understood how these begging cartels promote human trafficking. They convince disabled people that they would provide for them work and a place to stay in another country, only for these people to realize the work they will be doing is begging on the street. They also instill fear in them and many have no choice but to stay since they know they will return to poverty in their home country.
If you are or were a street philanthropist like me, here are a few ways you can help street families and homeless individuals:
- Educate yourself: There are many reasons why a person becomes homeless — loss of a job, medical issues, divorce, addictions to alcohol and drugs, lack of affordable housing, domestic abuse, et cetera. By educating yourself you become more empathetic and also decide how you can better help without judgment and provide long term solutions.
- Give in-kind not Cash: Consider donating socks, hygiene kits, a blanket or food vs giving cash. Giving cash strengthens the begging cartels and promotes human trafficking. If you want to donate cash consider giving to a local nonprofit organization fighting homelessness.
- Volunteer: Volunteer your time at a local nonprofit that assist people who are homeless. You can give your time by counseling, donating your skills or helping with program activities.
- Research your local elected officials: Find out who your elected local officials are and what they are doing to fight homelessness. Propose ideas or invite them to a volunteer event so they can see first-hand the effect of homelessness.
- Participate in Policy discussions: Raise awareness on the fate of street families and homeless individuals, to encourage legislators to create laws that fight homelessness through initiatives like affordable housing.
- Help them find a job: Encourage your faith-based organization or company to hire homeless individuals. Many homeless people want to work but finding employment can be difficult.
- Connect them with local nonprofits or an agency: You can research local nonprofits or agencies that assist homeless individuals. Then you can give them the information on how to contact these organizations.