We are blessed to have a roof over our heads and a place to work! According to the site streetsmart ‘Every night across Australia, more than 105,000 people are homeless. Two out of three people who look for crisis accommodation are turned away; there are ‘no vacancies’. Many end up on the street or living in sub standard boarding houses, caravans, squats, cars, refuges, or sleeping on friends’ couches. Vast numbers of our fellow Australians live in these miserable and often dangerous conditions.
Homelessness is complex, with each person having a different journey into homelessness. Homelessness is often the end point to a series of life events, and the people who are homeless are not who you may think. Close to half the homeless are female — many with young children — and nearly half of all homeless are under the age of 25. Domestic/family violence is the biggest single contributor to homelessness. Other major contributors are poor mental health, family breakdown, debt, poverty, lease expiry, violence and abuse, chronic gambling and substance addiction, leaving state care or leaving prison.’
As Nurses we see such a range of people from all walks of life and over time it can be easy to make assumptions regarding a persons background or circumstance. Last weekend I was in Brisbane and saw an older gent very slowly shuffling along at Carindale Shopping Centre. He was carrying a couple of tattered bags and his shoes were ill fitting, with long dirty toenails hanging over the edge. It was a really busy day at the centre and people were bumping and brushing past him in their haste to get off the escalator. I was behind him and he almost overbalanced getting off the escalator and in the process he dropped one of his bags with the meagre contents spilling out onto the floor. It was sad to see so many people just continue on their way and not offer to assist him.
The gent was obviously flustered and after helping him collect his meagre items I walked with him til we came across a seat for him to rest. I gave him a bottle of water and I could have been handing him a million dollars by his reaction. He became teary and said do you know you are the first person in days who has even really talked to me! During our chat he shared that he hated being old and being by himself. He had previously been a teacher and he spoke with pride about that period in his life – he acknowledged that alcohol after the death of his wife had wreaked his life and he had until recently spent time living on the streets. He shared that he knew many like himself who were homeless and he identified that they aren’t ‘just bums and nobodies – we are people too’
This gent really reminded me that we can on occasion make assumptions about people based on their appearance or where we see them within our community. This man was gracious in choosing to share his story in part with me and he was so very appreciative that a stranger would bother to assist and take a little time to chat. This time of year is often spent focusing on material things and nothing is more precious than spending time sharing, talking and supporting those you come into contact with We don’t know what challenges people are facing or the difficulties they have overcome – we can each continue to make a positive difference by saying a simple hello and giving a stranger a helping hand!