It’s 12:30am. Winter. There is what can only be described as a mini hurricane raging outside. Torrential rain pelting our roof and windows and wind whipping at our plants bending our palm trees over almost in half. I can’t sleep. Not because of the noise, which is, admittedly, loud. As I lie here listening to the rains of hell descend upon us, I cannot help but think of the homeless.
They have been on my mind lately. A lot. We have over 105,000 homeless people in Australia. This is compared to an estimated 2181 in the UK (with a population three times that of Australia). I wonder how in a country that has the 12th largest GDP in the world there are over a hundred thousand people living without homes. I wonder how this is even remotely okay.
On nights like tonight, I imagine them, trying desperately to keep warm, and dry, with the howling wind and rain, desperately trying to find shelter somewhere where they won’t be moved along. They do get moved along, you know. Because we don’t like to be reminded of how we, as a society, have failed these people. We don’t want to think that we might be, in some part, responsible. So we turn a blind eye and move them along, to where we can’t be reminded.
I once did a Community Development placement at a not-for-profit organisation in Frankston. For the uninitiated Frankston is considered the scourge of the state of Victoria. A wasteland for degenerate drug affected criminals where any sane person should never consider to live. Recently, I attended a Jeff Dunham concert and even he cracked jokes about the din of iniquity that is Frankston. We all laughed, marvelling at how this Canadian comedian could connect with us Victorians so well. I hate that I laughed.
But I digress. Part of that placement involved going around with an ‘Ambassador’ of Frankston, a council appointed person that was like a civilian police member, to see where all the homeless people ‘lived’. I remember being completely inappropriately dressed for the occasion as I tried to navigate the foreshore bush in my high heeled boots, and the muddy wasteland of derelict buildings, many of which were boarded up so that homeless people could not gain access into them. Instead, they were forced to huddle up on the steps and in doorways. Even a building left to rack and ruin was not allowed to welcome them into its far from safe, but sheltered, clutches.
I was told that during the day they would migrate from one social service to the next which is why they were not there (and presumably why it was safe for us to intrude their living space, if you could call it that). But evidence of their living was there – old blankets, rubbish, dirty nappies, needles.
How is it that we think this is okay?
Watching a Richard Dawkins program the other night about religion, he interviewed a professor who had studied human atrocities and how we, as humans, are capable of such grotesque acts. She cited the Nazi regime in particular. They found that when we are convinced that another person is less than us, the part of our brain responsible for empathy shuts down. This process, she termed ‘Otherisation’. A process whereby we are able to convince ourselves, or be convinced, that the person to whom the atrocity is occuring is less than human. This is how Hitler was able to convince those German soldiers to commit such awful things and this is how we, as a society, are able to switch off to the inequality around us. We tell ourselves that the homeless deserve it, that they use the money we give to take drugs, that they don’t hold the same values we do, that they are ‘other’ to us, less than us, not human. We have switched off our empathy.
It is how Tony Abbott and his ridiculous government are able to sleep at night knowing the atrocities they are committing against refugees, and single mothers, and gays, and the aboriginal people, and the homeless. Because, inherently, they believe in ‘otherisation’. These people are less than them, money is god, and all else be damned. Their empathetic brains have been switched off and there is a swathe of anti-humanism sweeping our country at their hands.
Homelessness keeps me awake at night. Inhumanity keeps me awake at night. How about you?
So, what do we do?
We donate. Our time, our blankets, our old clothes. We donate money to schemes like Swags for Homeless so at least they might be kept dry on nights like these. We donate food to places like Foodbank and we sure as hell buy that copy of The Big Issue the next time we are accosted in the street. We encourage our work places to take on Corporate Volunteer schemes at places like Sacred Heart Mission or City Life, organisations that make it their business to ensure the lives of the homeless are that much more bearable. There is much we can do despite a government hell bent on destroying our country’s Social Intelligence.
Let us do this. Let us ensure that we reduce that number. Let us make a stand for humanity, all of humanity. So that it is only the driving rain on the roof that is keeping people awake at night, and not the lack of shelter.