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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Columnist: Komla

Homelessness in Ghana, Is it my Problem?

As some of the old timers here at the forum would remember, I have spent the past five years attempting to promote tribal harmony; peace and unity both here at the forum and on the ground back home in Ghana. A lot of you including my Right Honorable friend Justice Sarpong have argued that the tribal disharmony amongst Ghanaians is not at a level which could result into tribal war ever. It has been suggested that tribal remarks made here at the forum is just to blow smoke and it carries no real danger.

Well, I just came back from Ghana where I spent five glorious weeks travelling up and down the country, testing the waters of tribal disharmony and the possibilities of a tribal war; and I am pleased to announce that, those who are of the conviction that Ghana is safe from tribal war are absolutely correct. I did not find any substantial evidence of tribal disharmony during the five weeks I was there to suggest tribal war is imminent. However, on the contrary, what I found was encouraging. It was interesting to note that Ghanaians from all tribes with similar hopes, fears and aspirations, sharing, living and struggling together in an atmosphere of perfect harmony.

Now that the threat of tribal war is not as imminent as I first thought five years ago, I now want to focus my attention on socio-economic issues I observed while in Ghana, and would like to start with homelessness. While homelessness in Ghana is not as obvious as people sleeping on street corners in cities such as London, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and other major cities of the world. However, homelessness is homelessness regardless of where it is, and however you cut it. Approximately 0ver 100,000.00 persons in Ghana are homeless on any given night. Some people sleep in makeshift shelters, others sleep on floors in shops, and majority sleeps in uncompleted buildings with their children. Though there are many reasons that individuals and families become homeless, the result is the same, the loss or lack thereof of a critical basic need that provides shelter, safety and stability. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have never experienced homelessness may find it difficult to understand how important a home is to our peace of mind until it’s gone. It is universally accepted that the most cost effective way of addressing homelessness is to prevent it before it begins.

Though it may be easy to rationalize that the homeless have themselves to blame for their homelessness in some circumstances, however, we should not and cannot ignore their struggle, their illness and their hurt. Not helping would be inhumane. Housing is a right and not a privilege. Therefore every Ghanaian should have access to safe, decent and affordable housing. The cure to homelessness is affordable housing with additional support services that may be needed to sustain permanent rental housing without time limits.

I firmly believe that there cannot be a better Ghana without first addressing the homelessness issue. The homelessness issue should be part and parcel of the better Ghana agenda. Shelter is one of the basic needs of every human being, and it is the responsibility of the government of the day to set the agenda. The government should therefore create a comprehensive strategic plan to address homelessness. An effective approach would be for the government to make resource available for emergency homeless shelters throughout the nation where the homeless would be referred. Such facilities would be managed by a church, faith-based organization or non-profit that would provide meal and bed for the night. But making the resources available sometimes isn’t enough. The resources should include spectrum of services to homeless people, and the focus should be transition to permanent housing.

There should be a national discussion about homelessness to bring awareness for communities to accept that homelessness is inhumane and costly and encourage initiating creative solutions to address homelessness in a manner that best fit the needs of their community. Homelessness in today’s modern Ghana is unacceptable and something must be done about it, and must be done now. Stable permanent housing as a primary strategy is the solution for ending homelessness. We should bear in mind that not everyone is able to afford or interested in owning their own home. That is why there is there need for government assisted rental housing programs.

The government through its instrumentalities such as local government should develop and provide low income housing either through direct or indirect subsidy as is the practice in the industrialized world. In the United Kingdom it is called Council Housing, and in the United States of America it is called Public Housing. The Better Ghana Agenda cannot be achieve without meeting one of the basic needs (shelter) of every Ghanaian. God bless Ghana, and long live Ghana.

Komla – The Self- proclaimed Peace Broker


By the way, despite the traffic chaos, light offs, water shut offs and the socio-economic problems, home sweet home. Ghana is interesting and enjoyable. I had a blast and can’t wait to go back.