Tonight, there is an event going on in my town. Community Action Inc (Gympie) and David Gibson (our local MP – state), and various other dignitaries, have rallied to sleep in the streets in order to raise awareness and money to “help the homeless”.
Some Background Information
In Gympie, there are approximately 80 homeless people at any given time. Homelessness, as anything, has a range of degrees.
1) Staying at a friend’s house for as long as you need to. Maybe you help pitch in for bills, maybe not. Maybe you sleep on the couch, or perhaps the spare bed. In any event, there is no rush to leave. The difference between this and being a flat mate is that your name is not on the lease. The furniture in your room is not your own, nor are you renting it. You are a guest. It is not your house. There is some stability, however your friend can still kick you out at any time, and if they do, there may be no notice given at all.
2) Couch surfing. Staying at various friends houses; a week here, a night there. There is no stability, and no clue as to when it might end.
3) Interim street homelessness. You have somewhere to go to, but you can’t go there yet, so you are stuck on the streets for the interim. This lasts a night or two, maybe up to a week.
4) Interim street homelessness plus. You are on the streets with nowhere to go and no plan, however it doesn’t take long before you find something.
5) Full blown homelessness. You live on the streets. Period.
For the record, I have experienced number 1 on numerous occasions (and for months at a time), number 3 once, and number 4 twice. Technically I have been homeless, however I have never considered myself as “homeless”. I may have skipped the odd shower, but I have remained relatively clean and tidy, as well as fed and (for the most part) warm. I have had clothes and friends. Most of all – I have always had hope. I may not have had a plan, but when it came to housing at least, I had hope.
Tonight’s Example of “Homelessness”
I found out via FaceBook that tonight’s event was on. My local MP has been putting photo’s up of himself getting all snug and warm in brand name clothes and a comfy sleeping bag. A couple of people commented on FaceBook that real homeless people do not have the comfort of beanies, sleeping bags, hot food and beverages, and jackets. I decided to go and check it out for myself.
When I arrived, there were about twenty people already snuggled in their sleeping bags or swags (yes, I shit you not, some were in swags, complete with mattresses). About forty people were milling around, partaking in the sausage sizzle, or holding a hot cup of whatever. I took my packet of cookies from Woolies (all I had to spare) over to one of two food centers, apologised it wasn’t much, and said they were for whomever was hungry.
The man at the table barely looked at me, mumbled thanks, and put them on the table. When I left an hour later, no one had touched them. A woman standing nearby also said that the gesture was sweet, although she didn’t quite get “sweet” out before her friend next to her started talking to her, and I was ignored henceforth.
As it was obvious that nobody there had any interest in who I was, let alone speak to me, I went and sat down on some nearby steps and looked around. Every single person there other than myself (as far as I could see) was a part of some group. Everyone had someone to talk to – everyone knew someone else. I knew nobody. So I sat on the steps and tried to make eye contact with people so that maybe someone would come and keep me company.
At least twenty people walked past at some stage. Most of them didn’t look at me at all. The few that did turn their eyes my way saw me, but didn’t “look” at me. Only one person smiled as she walked past (though she had been smiling for the 20 meters up the street she had already walked, so it was merely a continuation and not a sign of “hi, how you doing?”.
I was on “the outside”. I didn’t belong. I was the person you walk past and ignore because, well, that’s what we do isn’t it? The person you don’t want to think about because it’s too uncomfortable to think about them. It’s much nicer to think of more pleasant things, so we’ll just ignore that going on over there… It’s much nicer to HAVE more pleasant things, and so we demonise anyone who can’t seem to make it by themselves (even if their situation is completely outside of their control).
I sat there for an hour and watched these people. These people who were rugged up – some in designer clothing. These people with hot food and hot beverages. These people with sleeping bags and pillows and quite a few with a mattress of some sort. These people who all had someone to talk to and be with.
This was a community. And as a community it was fantastic. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
Except me. I was bored and lonely and cold. I was in pain, and hungry and would have appreciated a coffee. The people manning the food tables knew the people milling around the food tables and it seemed impolite to walk up and demand service. I wasn’t even sure if I would be allowed or if it was being provided for members of those particular groups alone. I certainly didn’t get the “friendly” vibe from one soul there.
I saw the CEO of a local organisation. I have worked with her before, and every time I see her, I think of the things she used to say about clients, and the way she used to gossip all day and not do any work whatsoever, and I’m torn between wanting to slap her, and just cry at how cruel someone can be while still retaining employment in a sector that is supposed to care about people. The fact that she is now CEO of such an organisation brings me to the point of wanting to kill myself to escape living in a world as screwed up as this. I sat there and wondered – of all the money raised tonight, I wonder how much is going to towards keeping someone in a job and how much is going toward actually helping get people into stable housing.
She glanced at me once. I’m sure she wouldn’t remember me (particularly given her attitude), however she glanced at me and she had that look on her face. You know that look. That look that says “you don’t belong here, so piss off”.
As I sat there, bored, lonely and cold, it occurred to me what a wonderful opportunity I was being presented. I wish I had taken my camera to give you all some visuals to go with my story, but alas I am still getting used to being a writer, and I went woefully unprepared. I sat there and realised I have the opportunity to sit here and try to engage someone. Try to get someone there to talk to me. To care about why I was there. To care about who I was. Maybe I would hit the jackpot and get someone to engage in an actual meaningful conversation past the usual pleasantries we tend to engage in with strangers.
Much as I tried however, no one wanted to know me. So I sat there and thought – out of all of these people – out of all of these people who claim to care about the homeless – perhaps you have someone who is homeless sitting among you right now and you don’t care.
And everything I had already suspected was confirmed.
This event isn’t about wanting to care. It is about raising money to build organisations that keep people in employment. This event isn’t about the homeless. It’s about people with homes wanting to get publicity in order to further their careers or their ego’s. This event isn’t about trying to feel what it is like to be homeless. It’s about having a massive outdoor slumber party.
In one hour, I experienced more of what it is like to be homeless than the rest of those people combined will experience throughout the entire event.
Bored, lonely, cold, and without hope that things will get better.
Tomorrow the paper will no doubt applaud their efforts, and their ego’s will be stroked for a few days.
They should feel fucking ashamed of themselves.
If you want to help someone who is homeless, the next time you pass someone on the street begging for money, give them some. Sure they may use it for booze, but they are entitled to make their own decisions, the same as the rest of us. And before donating to ANY organisation, check them out first. People deserve to be paid for the work that they do, however there are many organisations out there that exist purely to keep themselves in jobs where they don’t have to do any actual work. Make sure your cash is going to count. Make sure the organisation is actually achieving something constructive.
I am going to get shit on for writing this piece, because I am “putting down” people who are “just trying to help”. But consider how many hours went into proposing this event and getting people on board. Preparing the event. Holding the event. A very conservative figure of 60 people times four hours (not counting sleep time, or even the proposing and preparing, but just the social bits from this evening) = one person full time employed for six weeks. It takes an hour to get onto social media and raise a few thousand dollars. Give it the equivalent of a day, and you could raise enough to buy a house kit. Which could put up in five weeks and four days (although you would need at least two people on site, so call it nearly three weeks with two people). Maybe even less if they really hauled arse.
If people in this town REALLY wanted to do something about the homeless, they would do this forty times (assuming only two people to each home – depending on the family dynamics of the homeless, this could be less), and have housing for the homeless. All of them. For as long as they needed it.
If people in this town REALLY wanted to do something about the homeless, they would get up off their arses and actually DO SOMETHING.
It’s far more enjoyable to hold slumber parties though I guess! And chat.