To say that a night out in the cold has given me an idea as to what it is like to be homeless couldn’t be further from the truth. Homelessness is a complex problem that presents and manifests itself in different ways and I don’t pretend to know just how difficult the life of someone who “sleeps rough” is, nor their individual circumstances or struggles that have given rise to their situation.
But one thing that was reinforced to me as I was Iaying in the cold, my face exposed, listening to the sounds of the city; was that this is a problem about which we need to understand more, a problem for which we need to break down the barriers and dispel the stereotypes, a problem that in this day and age and in the city in which we live should not be as prevalent and as widespread as it is.
A number of people in the recent week have asked me why did I decided to do the sleepout… well the answer is two fold. Firstly, the most obvious, which is to raise money – with the sleepout in its 8th year this year, it has a solid history of fundraising since the first group of CEO’s gathered to sleep out.
But secondly, to experience it for myself, to be able to talk about my experience, to generate dialogue, because it is the personal experience that connects people to a reality that they may not have considered or they may not wish to consider. I have had many conversations with people in the last week about my night out in the cold, most of which have generated meaningful discussion about the issue of homelessness or at the very least, put the concept on peoples’ radars when they would have not otherwise given the issue a second thought.
We need to discuss these things, we need to discuss that the most common demographic of a homeless person is not an older, scruffy looking man as many people may imagine – its young men and women, it’s children, its victims of domestic violence, those with mental health difficulties; its people from all walks of life and all suburbs and it is a lot more prevalent than we think.
There is no way I could imagine having to attend a job interview where I was expected to be at my best, to try to make new connections or try to make positive changes in my life to break the cycle of homelessness after just one night of sleeping out, let alone sleeping rough on a permanent basis. As I “awoke” in the morning, fortunate to be able to go home and see my family and have a hot shower, it was a sobering thought to imagine those who would again start their day with a feeling of emptiness and nowhere to go.
So what can we do? I don’t pretend to have the answers to tackling this problem, but what I do know is that we all need to do more than is being done now. Events like the CEO sleepout are a step in the right direction and the fundraising that flows from the event provides St Vincent de Paul with valuable funds, but as they say, charity begins at home. We don’t all have to do the CEO sleepout, but we all have the power to make a contribution to the difficulties that are faced by those who are homeless.
Maybe It’s helping on a practical level – donating blankets, donating time, or even simply money.
But maybe it is about changing our own mindsets, moving out of our comfort zone.
How many times have you avoided eye contact with someone you suspect if homeless when passing them in the street or have begrudgingly handed over a $2 coin to someone looking for money, filled with judgement. I am sure we all have.
What would happen if we gave this person a smile, or even wished them a good day, or maybe even asked them their name? It might not be for everyone, but a little action like this may make a significant impact to someone’s else’s day and doesn’t take away anything from ours. Why not give it a try?