Rust: The Color of Homelessness

The Color of Homelessness




Most things in East Africa have a color.

Including homelessness.

In our part of Uganda, it wears red.

Not a bright red. More of a dirty red.

I’d call it the color of rust.

The average African wears the same basic outfit daily.

This is no meant to be disparaging. 

They may only have two dress shirts but each will be neatly pressed and starched collar, and neatly adorned with cufflinks.

Pants that are creased and clean.

Dress shoes shined to perfection.

The women are even more fastidious.  Matching scarves and blouses. Colorful skirts.

When I’m in a crowd of Africans, I’m always the most poorly dressed one present.

The homeless (of which there are many) also only have one of two wardrobes.  They’re easy to recognize in a crowd on the street.

Their clothes are rust-colored.  The red dirt of East Africa has become the symbol of their despair.

A t-shirt that once was white or grey is no a dingy brown.

The pants with both knees torn out is caked with the dust and mud of Kampala, Entebbe, or Arua.


Speaking of Arua,  I have a recent story:


We were there (Arua is the largest city in West Nile state) waiting to meet a government official over the refugee camps.  I decided to clean out our Land Cruiser.

I held an armload of empty water and soda bottles, looking for a trash can. Trash cans are rare in Africa.

One of my friends took the trash to a nearby heap.  “It won’t be wasted here.”

Within minutes, a street man dressed in rags was picking up my bottles. What caught my attention and heart was how he meticulously was drinking the tiny drops of liquid from each bottle.

I grabbed a full water bottle and Cliff bar and went to him. He recoiled as I neared, hesitantly taking my gift and crawling away.

His eyes had the look of a dog that’d been kicked too many times.  No word of thanks came from his lips.  He scooted away a safe distance, cradling his treasure.


You can see this scene on the streets of any large U.S. city.  That doesn’t make homelessness any less disturbing.

It’s just that in my country of Uganda, it has a color.

A sad dingy dull red.

The color of homelessness.


You can learn more about ministries to the street boys of Uganda and Kenya at these sites:



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