An encounter

I gave two men money for their accommodation the other night.  They were both homeless, but had secured night by night accommodation at a backpackers, and were attempting to raise further funds, separately, to have a room for the night.  Since then I’ve thought about begging and homelessness and all the messages I have been given about homelessness, whether from my peers, the media or our politicians.

Pretty much all of the messages that go with homeless people are pretty awful.  They’re losers, they want to be homeless, they’re drug addicts, alcoholics, dirty, helpless, ill or diseased.  I personally cannot imagine too many people who would want to be homeless, and who would want to be homeless in Melbourne with winter approaching, or really in any city.  Although sleeping outside in balmy weather is a nice thing to do on occasion, imagine doing it every night, in doorways, under bridges or in the park.

Tony Abbot recently misused the bible to justify not acting on homeless people.  Abbott quoted from the Gospel of Matthew: ”The poor will always be with us,” and referred to the fact there is little a government can do for people who choose to be homeless.  It is this type of attitude that needs to change in relation to thinking about homeless people.  Surely as a society we should be caring for those of us who stumble over misfortune in their lives.

And if people living on the streets are self medicating or are alcoholic, is that any reason not to help them when approached?  I think it’s horribly judgemental to believe that someone asking you for money a) has to justify what it is to be used for and b) has to fight through a whole lot of prejudice regarding whether or not that money will be used for what they claim it will be.  I know I’m far more likely to give money to people who ask for it humbly, and that’s something that just pushes my buttons, they have every right to ask for it as forcefully as they need it, though unlikely to achieve much success.  Begging is, by its very definition, something that is done in a supplicating manner, so to ask requires a certain deference, which is also unfair even if necessary.

I have had people demand money of me, and that makes me feel threatened.  I’m far more likely to refuse money to someone who I am afraid of.  This of course ends up with homeless people often being powerless and with them being voiceless and invisible generally.  I get charity spruikers pushing their charity in my face far more than I get homeless individuals who would need my money more.

Yes, there are charities that exist to provide services to the homeless, and universally they are beyond their capacity with more homeless people to cope with than funds to manage them.  If someone needs money and I have some (and am in the right frame of mind, etc), I’ll give them money to find a room, find a meal and to have a little more comfort for the evening.  I’ve decided to reject society’s messages about homelessness and the helplessness of those who are homeless.  I’ll help where I can, including by donating to organisations that work with homeless people, and by helping homeless people themselves.

I also support the Big Issue which is set up to help the homeless and long-term unemployed by employing them as vendors and providing them with support.  The Big Issue also provides education to school students to help them “break down stereotypes surrounding homelessness and encourage tolerance and empathy towards all people.”

So is there a point to this post… not really.  Its just a collection of my current thoughts on homelessness.  I haven’t even touched on issues of gender, disability and age in relation to homelessness, how homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless are targeted by unscrupulous boarding home operators, and how the homeless often remain invisible and silent when it comes to politics.

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