A Long Way Home

Did you know that recent statistics reported over 105,000 people as homeless in Australia? Alarmingly, 27% of those people are under 18 years of age, with 16% under 10. (Yes, ten!) Australia isn’t alone in these stats, with many countries seeing staggering numbers of homeless people sleeping on the streets or in non-permanent sleeping arrangements.

Homelessness is confronting, and was on my radar well before I wrote the scenes in Integrate where Blaine, the teenage hero of the novel, finds himself sleeping rough on the streets. Sometimes homelessness can seem an overwhelming issue. Perhaps this is because of its prevalence and the complexity of circumstances that can lead to someone becoming homeless. And the reality is it can happen easier than one might imagine.

Many cases of homelessness slip under the radar, especially couch surfers who may technically have a roof over their head most nights, but have no permanent residence. The impact on those living in transient housing is significant: socially, economically, mentally, physically and more. Consider this for children, who are supposed to go to school and learn, but they don’t even know if they have a bed each night, or even food.

For this reason it’s been great to see so many incentives raising funds and awareness of this issue. This Saturday just gone, our local city held their ‘Hike for the Homeless‘, which is a fundraising opportunity that exists in a number of communities about Australia. Other opportunities that people can get onboard with include ‘Hangout for the homeless‘, ‘Homeless for a Week‘ and ‘Vinnies Community Sleepout‘. Even professionals, like social workers, have taken up similar efforts to bring positive change to this situation. It’s also been great seeing a number of churches about Australia, such as those in the Yarra ranges, opening their doors to the homeless to provide food, shelter, bathroom facilities and hope.

As great as these programs are, when we start thinking of homelessness on a more personal level it can be a little more confronting. It’s one thing to join a collective effort, it’s another thing to look a homeless person in the face and offer them … Well, what can we offer? A coffee, either in person or by paying it forward? A meal? A hug? A donation to ‘Swags for Homeless‘? Or even a room in our home?

As we approach Christmas, the awful reality is a whole bunch of people will be spending it alone, hungry, in old clothes, and with no ready bathroom facilities.

What do you think we can do? Is joining a worthy cause and fundraising enough? Or can we go beyond general kindness to practical steps, like befriending a needy stranger, and bring a little brightness into someone else’s world? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “A Long Way Home

  1. Hi Adele

    Thanks for highlighting the issues. I’ve seen recent articles that suggest homelessness is increasing among women over 50 for a variety of reasons (perhaps due to relationship breakdown, health issues etc). It’s great to provide food, toiletry items, or a swag for those sleeping on the streets – or place to stay – to ameliorate the effects of homelessness.

    I think too that looking at the complex causes of homelessness is important – maybe the chronic lack of affordable housing (it can takes years to get suitable accommodation & dispute between neighbours can make it untenable), or the difficulty of finding stable employment with reasonable wages and the unemployed often need to use up their savings before receiving help – or the need to give support to people with mental health issues or disabilities. No doubt there are others.

    Our church runs a CAP ministry which helps people get out from the burden of debt. Sometimes, all it can take is the sudden advent of chronic illness, disability and/or unemployment for a family to struggle. It’s easier to blame the homeless, maybe because we don’t want to consider that it could happen to us.

    • So great to hear about the programs your church is involved with to help the homeless. The number of homeless people in Australia is staggering. The factors you mentioned would be reasonable predictors of an increase in homeless women over 50, and as you say, the tipping point for those in difficult situations can be such little things that snowball into crisis. A serious issue I hope we all feel challenged to change for the better.

  2. Great blog, Adele and thanks for those links to organisations that help. It’s easy to ‘blame the victim’ in these cases and think that homeless people have brought it on themselves. While some people are homeless due to poor or misguided choices, many are homeless because they’re escaping abusive situations or because they don’t have an alternative. If people are already on a low income and don’t have the support of family and friends, it doesn’t take much to tip over into homelessness. ‘There but by the grace of God go I.’

    I think Swags for Homeless is a great idea. Something so simple can make life just that much easier. I also remember seeing a TV news story about the Footpath Library, which takes books to homeless people. It might seem like a nonessential thing, but just that simple initiative can show care and help foster dignity. Here’s the link: https://www.footpathlibrary.org/

    Though of course bigger solutions are needed to get to the roots of the problem. Thanks for the reminder to look out for others this Christmas.

    • Thanks for commenting, Nola. These programs are just some of the ways to support homeless people, and I agree, Swags for Homeless is such a practical way of doing so. I know our local Soup Kitchen also feeds many homeless folk.

      The blame/easy solutions factor is such an important consideration when looking at homelessness, as it can be easy to overlook the complexity of the issue or fob it off by an idea the individual who’s homeless should just do more to take control of their life. A documentary on television, where people who lived comfortable lives had to survive on the street was a great way of highlighting just how hard it can be.

      Hopefully the links in the blog will give folks some ideas on how to make a difference for those experiencing housing crisis.

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