After attending the footy at Adelaide Oval recently, my husband and I were confronted by a middle-aged man sitting in the corner of the driveway to the office carpark. I say ‘confronted’ because while he wasn’t threatening in any way or asking anything of us, my husband and I both felt like we should do something but didn’t quite know what.
He looked a little jittery and that made us think he may have been under the influence of some kind of substance. We both hoped he found somewhere a little warmer to sleep, and we drove home to our nice home and warm bed.
Unfortunately, the uncomfortable feeling of helplessness and not knowing what to do when coming face-to-face with homelessness is not an isolated incident. On recent trips to Melbourne and Sydney I have been shocked to see so many people lined up on the city streets with their makeshift beds.
While the problem is less obvious here, that doesn’t necessarily mean the problem is less severe.
According to local frontline agencies like Vinnies and the Hutt St Centre, the demand on their services has increased significantly with domestic violence a major cause of homelessness among women and children. The need is not limited to the city square. Recently I interviewed a young woman who said she had been sleeping in suburban parks close to where I live. And the new State president of Vinnies, Cathy Beaton, has spoken about the lack of services for the homeless in country towns.
When I participated in my first CEO Sleepout in 2010 what struck me most was not the cold weather but the vulnerability of sleeping outside and having nowhere to keep your few belongings or have a shower in the morning. It was also an eye-opener in terms of the real stories of individuals who could be any one of us but due to a combination of circumstances have found themselves homeless.
Too often we are quick to judge these people – Pope Francis recently questioned why we would resist giving a beggar money because they might spend it on alcohol or gambling. ‘What do we do when we get a little extra money?’ he asked. By the way, there is a lovely story doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment of Pope Francis sneaking out in the middle of the night dressed as a simple priest to visit and comfort the homeless in Rome.
By the time you read this, our Southern Cross team will have participated in the CEO Sleepout and will have learnt more about what it means to be homeless and the vital work that organisations like Vinnies do to provide assistance. My colleagues and I will be a little uncomfortable for one night but nothing like the uncomfortable feeling I had when I saw that man with nowhere to go and didn’t do anything about it.
If you would like to make a donation to Vinnies, please visit www.ceosleepout.org.au/team/the-southern-cross/.
On another note, I am sure many of you would have seen the opinion piece by Tory Shepherd in The Advertiser which concluded with the use of one of the worst profanities with the sacred gospel phrase (Jesus wept). While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the lack of respect shown for people of Christian faith by this writer, and by the publisher, is very concerning. There seems to be an ‘open slather’ approach to Christianity when in every other aspect of society, we acknowledge the importance of respecting the rights of individuals regardless of race, gender or religious belief.