Saturday, 17 October 2009
It sounds like something out of a satirical comedy film. A group of ten homeless women in Belgium recently competed in the Little Miss Homeless pageant, the prize being a year of rent-free living.
Contest winner, 58-year-old Therese Van Belle (pictured third from the left), was surprised she won. “This is the first time I've been lucky,” Van Belle is quoted as saying. “I think my life is about to change for the better.”
“It was about the contestants' inner strength and determination to get themselves out of their old life and on a new path,” said contest organizer Aline Duportail to the UK's The Sun. Duportail explained that the purpose of the contest was also to “draw attention to the plight of the homeless.”
Well, the contest did draw attention, that's for sure, but not for its humanitarian efforts. Women's rights groups have come down hard on the contest organizers for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the remaining nine losing contestants were sent back to life on the streets.
“I am outraged,” said activist Jacqueline Aubenas. “These girls turned into puppets parodying their own life. Absolutely pathetic."
At least one of the contestants support the Miss Homeless pageant. “The contest is not obscene - for a homeless person to want to be beautiful is not obscene,” said runner-up Leonie Reiner, a 39-year-old who, according to the UK's Orange News, lost both her house and her children because of substance abuse. “It is the misery of life on the streets that is obscene.”
Yet it is that “misery of life” Reiner and the rest of the losing contestants must face once again. Despite the efforts of the organization who put the contest together, the nature of the contest allows for only one winner.
Not only that, but the prize rewarded, a rent-free year, doesn't address the root of the problems that likely caused her to be homeless in the first place, including alcoholism and drug abuse. These habits could continue despite her new-found living situation, causing her to be homeless once again after the end of the year-long lease.
This is, of course, a pessimistic outlook. She could just as easily take this to be a new beginning and work to free herself from the things that kept her homeless, but one has to wonder whether a roof over her head is enough help to free her from whatever has made her homeless in the first place.
Do you think the Miss Homeless contest draws proper attention to the plight of the homeless? What are some other things the organization could have done to help all of the women instead of just one?