What is it like to be homeless? Can I have any inkling of how it feels? How do I think it would feel? Well for starters I think feeling vulnerable would be near the top of the list!
I have seen people sleeping rough on the streets. How could anyone sleep in a public place and not feel vulnerable? They are vulnerable to robbery, violence, rejection, abuse, humiliation and all the natural elements such as heat, cold and rain!
I remember in the 1970’s when I used to pass through Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne as I would walk to work for a 7.00am start at AW Allen (where South Bank is now). There were many times that I came across men sleeping rough in the gardens. I had no fear that they would do any harm to me. I was very moved with a desire to help. It affected me emotionally in a way that I didn’t understand. I began to think that I was attracted to dirty old men who didn’t shave!
I look at Indigenous homelessness in a different way. From my experience there appears to be a degree of homelessness in Indigenous people when they are away from their traditional land and their family group. It wasn’t necessarily just a case of needing a house to live in.
I came close to being homeless myself once. I was seventeen at the time and new to Melbourne from country Victoria. I was sharing house with my partner and he took off without notice and there were complications with the other couple in the house. I had to get out. I found a boarding house (something like YWCA) however I didn’t cope very well at all with that type of environment. I became very introverted and shy and that seemed to bring out the aggression in the other young people staying there. I wanted to run away but I had no money and no means of transport. I remember linking up with one fellow there and he talked about stealing a car and driving to Sydney. I was so close to proceeding along that path but something stopped me. It was a case of “but for the grace of God” as people say.
So if a quiet country girl from a good family can start down that path of homelessness and illegal behaviour, I can see that it could happen to anyone. I have met alcoholics and drug addicts that have been homeless. Their lives were so out of control that they have been kicked out of, or have left the family home. Truth is that they weren’t really living as part of the family – their lives revolved around their drug of choice.
Any respectable man or women can find themselves homeless at some time in their lives. Mental illness is another case that is most often linked to the addiction problems. There is now a debate about what comes first; the addiction or the mental health condition. It can become a deadly cycle leading all the way down hill.
What can the community do about these issues and how can we work together to help people to stay in their homes and not find themselves sleeping rough? It is not just a matter of putting a highly dysfunctional person into a new home and leave them to it. There needs to be a holistic approach. The community (including government and non government agencies) need to work more closely together to address the issues of addiction, mental health, abuse and dysfunction.
That’s all for today…