Changing lives, not homes
At risk of homelessness.
As readers of this blog you may find it strange for me to mention these words. These words likely do not describe your circumstances. You may not know
someone who fits the above description. You may not even
there are people in your community who are marginalized, lacking in
resources and homeless. Yet you are more than likely someone who is in a position to actually do something about these words. In fact you are more than likely to be an inspired individual who wants to make a difference where it REALLY matters.
A base of understanding
I confess that I am limited in my knowledge of homelessness. My exposure is through stories, observation and online research. Whilst I certainly do not profess to be an expert I do hold a strong intention to at least do my part in raising awareness. With greater awareness then perhaps more people can lend a hand to people who make up the army of volunteers and workers helping people in these circumstances.
When you hear the word homeless what comes to mind? Likely the image of a hunched over man, leaning against a building, averting your gaze out of lack of pride but brazen enough to place a sign asking for some help. The typical response of most passer bys is to turn away, ignore, and pretend not to see. On the odd occasion someone might stop and do something.
Yes this stereotypical image of the homeless stays present and does represent a proportion of people. Yet if you dig deeper, check out some websites on the internet, you will quickly find there are people out of sight but by no means out of trouble.
These are the parallel yet unequal worlds we live in. The situation is not limited to just city streets in major cities. People in every walk of life, neighborhood, community may be on the brink of homelessness.
You don’t know. You don’t see the local family’s rapidly evaporating bank balance and no income. Society doesn’t talk about lack, we only talk about have. Homeless includes people who may not be ‘sleeping rough’ on the street, but also those who don’t have a permanent home and find a place to sleep in a shelter, community location or even a friend’s couch.
A choice of attention
So when the have-nots start to increase in number, make their presence known, either of two things can happen. We can choose to ignore, pretend that the situation is not our problem, not our fault, has nothing to do with us. Or we can take a compassionate and heartfelt step towards acknowledging that our fellow human beings are entitled to living, human dignity and a leg back up into the world of self sufficiency and independence within a community.
So the questions that emerge are:
Who are we to judge the circumstances that preceded a person’s current situation of lack?
Who are we to say one person, family etc qualifies for help and another doesn’t?
Who are we not to care and not to do something?
Now I am not homeless. I have not been homeless. I wish never to be homeless. I also have to admit that my involvement in helping people in this regard is limited. Yet like you my exposure is regular. I am not one of those people who can turn a blind eye, pretend that these people are ghosts without a soul on the streets.
I choose to help in a small way. I don’t hold back when someone asks for money. However I know that this solution is not addressing the infrastructure and support networks. What is really needed are coordinated and comprehensive initiatives that make a difference.
There are numerous well intentioned organizations and people helping the homeless. One of these initiatives came knocking on my door through the efforts of my child’s school. My daughter came home with a flyer asking us to contribute clothing and toys to be distributed as part of a program called “Sydney Homeless Connect”. As noted on their website:
“Sydney Homeless Connect brings together people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness in Sydney with the services and support that they need. Our focus is ACTION and OUTCOMES on the day.”
I really like the focus of a total whole person approach to getting people the assistance needed. I know it is in a dose but it is possibly the leg up that a person or a family needs. Who knows if that one gesture of help is not going to be the final bit needed.
Awareness starts early
Because this initiative is linked to my daughter’s school, she and I had some interesting conversations about 'homeless' people. It is not the first time. However this time, she asked more questions, seemed a bit wiser for her eight year old mind. So we went through some interesting points. As we did I realized that the questions she asked are the ones many adults have grown tired of asking. For many of us the issue and challenge of homelessness is in the too hard basket – to pay attention to or do anything about.
- Homelessness is not a bad thing (stigma). However many people who are afraid of what it means to be homeless can judge people in such situations for the circumstances that led to the homelessness. This judgment does not serve or help, but gets in the way of such people getting empathy and support.
- There are many reasons and causes that lead up to a person being homeless or on the verge of homelessness. For those not affected it can be all too easy to assume the negative. It takes a compassionate and caring person to accept the person regardless of why they are homeless. No matter what the
reason, we are not to judge nor discriminate because of circumstances.
- Because human beings have challenges on numerous levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – many at risk individuals can end up in situations that spiral down. In the absence of support either professionally or through friends it is not too hard to see how a person can end up in a homeless situation.
- For some people homelessness is surprisingly the safest option in their mind for getting out of a threatening situation. Not all families are functional. Not all relationships are caring. When people compromise the safety of others then one option considered and acted upon is to get out, even if it means going to live in temporary arrangements.
- There are many community support services that help people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness. These services are however challenged like all non for profits to financially thrive and flow through support to their ‘clients’. Many of these organizations rely heavily on the support of volunteers and donations from the community.
As a result of our conversation my daughter wanted to know more about what this means. I didn’t have any way to explain further so I decided to show her a movie. We chose to watch a movie where the lead character experienced homelessness. In watching this movie my daughter saw the challenges that lead to a person’s spiral down. She also saw the struggle, the contradiction in lifestyles, the difference between lack and have.
The one message that stood out the most though, was that every human being wants one thing – to preserve their dignity and be a contributing member of society. When both are gone then the effect can be devastating on the psyche and challenging for the community.
As simply an observer and commentator raising some awareness I notice a few things.
- Helping out is not about patronizing the group of people in marginalized situations. Instead it is about seeing people as equal human beings who are entitled to the same basics of living a life as you are enjoying.
- True assistance that really makes a difference is the kind that helps a person sustain a positive change. This kind of help is not one off giving, but training, counseling, mentoring and providing basic resources.
- Helping a person meet basic needs enables a person to then have the capacity and ability to focus on doing what is needed to get back into their community.
Now more in line with my way of helping people let me ask you some questions. These questions are intended to help you reflect and more importantly take inspired action. By no means do I wish for you to feel guilty for what you have. No I truly believe that we are here to also enjoy our life and find ways to be happy. What I do want you to do though is open up and see what insights and direction you feel you might take to help out in this ever growing, ever changing world of uncertainty.
What if it were you in the position of being homeless? What would you want? How would you want people to help you?
What ways can you help – eg giving time, offering services pro-bono, raising awareness, donating resources both goods and financial?
From a community perspective how can you connect to local services that lend a hand?
Through your business, whether you are an employee or owner, what ways can you engage in and offer support?
What research can you do to raise your own awareness?
Ultimately what beliefs, attitudes and paradigms do you need to challenge and shift in order to really see what the truth is about homelessness?
Where to help
Other than suggesting you check out Sydney Homeless Connect, I am purposely holding back on any other links. To me we need to help where we 1) feel right and 2) have the capacity. After my own exploration of many career paths I also believe that it takes a certain constitution to handle more sensitive situations. Yet when we get down to basics there is one never ending common denominator - we are all human!
Let's go there...