This post does not pull any punches. It’s about homelessness, the reality of self and personal agendas. It is not targeted at anyone but myself and the experiences I have recently had on this topic. I realise it may not sit well with people. Please consider your responses before you comment. I appreciate you reading my thoughts.
Over the past two weeks, I have been wandering around the city streets of Melbourne. It’s a wonderful place but as I come to the end of this time I have been reflecting on a topic that I often find myself revisiting and one that I just cannot avoid whilst walking along the main thoroughfares of the city.
This is something that I find extremely emotionally draining, as many probably would. My son says that I seem to physically connect, not just emotionally and that my personal anguish that I experience as I brush past countless people sleeping rough is due to the empathy I feel for them.
I just feel the incredible discomfort and shame eating away at my bones, gnawing on my own estimation of my capacity to be charitable. I feel like a fraud. I say I want to see change. I say that something needs to be done.
Yet I said no today to a man who walked up to us with a note in his hands. It read:
‘I am disabled and homeless and hungry. Can you please help me?’
We were standing at the traffic lights. In a crowd of at least 30 people. I was like a deer in the headlights and I shook my head as I took a step back, embarrassed and ashamed.
He shuffled away without a word, head bowed, not noticing the traffic coming toward him and leaving me behind in a wake of self-hatred.
I use such raw and hard language because I have no desire to dumb this down. At that moment I loathed myself. I loathed the deep truth that resonated within me, despite all my passionate words about loving others and putting a priority on helping others at that moment. I did not carry out the simple request of my beloved Christ, Saviour of my own life, to look after the hungry, the forgotten, the destitute.
And the worst part? We were not in a hurry. I had money in my wallet. There were loads of food places around. There was nothing stopping me from walking over to one of cafes and buying this man a meal.
Nothing except my own sense of need.
I put my own feelings and discomforts ahead of his. I had just had a lovely breakfast with my two adult sons. He may not have eaten since last week.
I doubt I will ever forget his face.
I came home feeling okay after composing myself on the street but then burst into tears as the waves of frustration and confusion at my severe lack of compassion flooded me. And I let myself be consumed for a time. I needed to feel this sense of shame. For what I did is what we all do at times.
We pass by. We look away. I have even pulled out my phone and pretended to be on a call to avoid someone looking for some compassion. I feel sick even writing that last sentence but it is the honest truth.
I could say that I’m just human; that I am only one person. I could remind myself that last week I gave my meal and some money to an 80+-year-old woman looking for food and that I was actually doing my part. I could let myself believe that I am doing the best I can.
But am I?
If homelessness has been all but eradicated in countries around the world, and this is growing, how on earth do we still have it here in Australia? I mean, seriously, I don’t want to beat around the bush on this anymore.
We are affluent. Embarrassingly so. As a country, we are rich in so many ways that we have people risking their lives to come here and be in our country.
So how can we have homeless people? Men, women, even children living without adequate clothing or shelter. Without food?
How can we stand by and watch people’s mental health decline and gawk at them as they shuffle by yelling to the wind about Armaggedon and hold our noses as we try not to gag at the smell left behind from living in urine-soaked clothing?
I have to pause here for a moment. There are thousands of people doing something about this. Organisations that are making inroads into homelessness, and into what creates the problems. I want to honour those people for doing what they are.
Perhaps this post is more about my own lack then. Perhaps this is about looking in the mirror and realising that the person in the reflection isn’t quite the person I hope I am. That’s painfully confronting. I am not the kind of woman I want to be, and certainly not the Christian I tell myself I am. Not yet.
My hope with this post is not to rage at the system or call out politicians or corporations on their efforts (or non-efforts) in combating the homeless epidemic in our country. But my hope is to stir your heart and make you feel uncomfortable. I want to force your heart to sink and I want to cause your mind to stop and reflect on what life would be like for you – for me – if we were to find ourselves without the proper basic needs of our lives met.
I don’t know yet how I am going to try and be more a part of the solution but I am working on it. I have no idea what kind of difference I can, or might even make. But I dare say that if nothing else changes, I will.
And maybe that’s the point.