What marks the beginning of 2016 for you? Is it the weather? Overindulgence of any kind? Resolutions you’ve made? Perhaps you’re beginning the New Year with some regrets about how much Christmas has cost? Or are you planning which world destinations you’ll be visiting?
For me the departure of 2015 is stained with the enormous blemish of homelessness, both near and far. Much of it has been caused by the weather-climate change, which we can no longer attempt to deny. Here in the UK there are many who’ve been put out of their homes by floods three times. I admire the spirit and resilience of these unfortunates as they mop up yet again, but you have to wonder if it might not be time to re-locate those who inhabit vulnerable areas.
Elsewhere-in the USA for instance, weather conditions are no kinder, with lethal tornadoes reducing everything to matchwood, followed by blizzards. Then in Australia searing temperatures have produced ideal circumstances for the punishing fires they’ve had to combat. We hear less about the enduring droughts in countries such as Namibia, where families are unable to keep the few animals they depend on alive.
We know that the conditions that have caused climate change are mostly man made. And so are the conditions that have brought about an exodus of Biblical proportions as a flood of another kind spread across Europe in the form of refugees.
Those who survived their grim voyages in defective vessels provided by corrupt and ruthless traffickers might be considered to have been the ‘lucky’ ones; but after a traumatic and exhausting ordeal on inhospitable seas they have had to traipse across one country after another seeking refuge. Of all these unfortunate, desperate people it is the mothers with tiny children who elicit the most sympathy from me. Their plight must have been dire for them to leave everything behind and risk the lives of their small children in un-seaworthy boats then plod miles with them, sleeping in the open along the sides of roads and railway tracks and depending on the unreliable handouts of local communities. What did they know of Northern European weather? Not enough to prepare them for the cold and the wet. A sick child is a worry to a mother in a warm home with food and medicine available. What can it be like for a mother camping out in a strange environment with no access to facilities?
I’ve only once experienced the unnerving panic that homelessness provokes, when evicted from a rented flat in London. But I was single, in my twenties and in paid employment, needing only to look through the flat-share ads for a new home. The anxiety then was fleeting. For the children growing up with the uncertainty of having been displaced and little hope of a warm, safe place to live the repercussions must surely last a lifetime. Under the circumstances ‘Happy New Year’ is tainted with a hollow ring…