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Posts tagged “homelessness

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Don’t let overwhelm feed paralysis – do good.

I stand spellbound neath the Opera’s sails. Here in Australia’s metro heart, where Sydneysiders use 200L water per day…per person. I wonder if they turn off the tap while they brush their teeth. I wonder how much I use.

In Parliament House we mingle in the Strangers’ Room, talking about the drought and eating salmon and roe on tiny pancakes made by house elves. What a name. The room and I both wear terracotta. Dusted orange strangers.

The Deputy Premier NSW gets up and speaks like an oil slick, in that way that people who get up and speak for a living have. A nun speaks, cracking her righteous truth across the assembled. One in six kids in Australia living in poverty. I feel it smack against the makeup I’d applied at 6am. It‘s uncomfortable, forced to confront my own privilege.

28years living with the homeless she says. She calls us to account, right here in Parliament House. Not just the pollies, but us as a nation. I’m pulled from the life I’ve built near Byron Bay and held, feet dangling, above Australia. I imagine the kids in their houses, what they eat and how often. I imagine the people who aren’t in houses too.

I take out my phone as she talks and google “poverty” beneath the table. Eric Jensen reckons there are six types: situational, generational, absolute, relative, urban and rural.A little sadness sinks over me as I read: “Absolute poverty is defined by the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.”

I remember the teenager I found crying at the roundabout in Ballina. Arms on the steering wheel. Head on her arms. Tyre punctured on the curb. It’s ok I said, not realising none of it was. There was a lot to that young person’s story. I didn’t ask, out of compassion for her dignity. I didn’t have the training. She had an arm bandaged and her whole body shook when I asked if she was ok. Sitting on the grass beside her car, her tears streaking my shoulders. She leaned on me the way a child does when it’s all become too much. Leaning into my body, the final, hopeless reach for support. The traffic slowing to miss us. It made me feel breakable. I called the support workers at my org.

We tried to find her a place for the night. Sleeping rough, couchsurfing, living in your car, are forms of homelessness too.I parked her car at Aldi and dropped her to the place she’d been crashing. All I could think was of my sisters. And how she didn’t have one with her now. Not everyone has their people close.

Trauma is hard enough with a roof and a support network.

A journalist took the podium and distilled huge issues into mouthfuls, delivered it back to us through the lens of shrewdness and political context a journalist who’s mastered their craft can wield.

I sit in admiration as I watch her laser-focus our attention to nuances of a social calamity with her well chosen handful of words. It‘s like watching my FNQ friends fillet a fish. Flick, precise, flick, unflinching.

From 2011 to 2016 the Census shows a 27% increase in homelessness in the state of NSW. The waiting list for social housing in some regions of the state is 10 years. Ten years!!What the hell do people do for ten years without a house!

A country with Australia’s wealth shouldn’t have these stats. We can do better, we’ve put a human on the moon for god’s sake.

On the train – packed in like chickpeas, my neon midst the suits, I look from seat to seat and feel keenly the collective minds at rest here. It‘s like seeing something powerful sleeping. A shark on the ocean floor, a lion lounging beard-red beside a well feasted kill.

I think til it hurts.

“You have to learn to compartmentalise,” says my colleague. “You can’t let it overwhelm you. You just have to keep doing good where you can and moving forward.”

A philosophical accountant. Skilled up in corporate, now using that deft mind in social services. This sector attracts some good ones.

Walking through Martin Place in my heels I feel 9-foot tall like my surfboard. The day has been full of stats and I want to make change. I’m impatient and saddened and raged.

My hair whips around like a thoroughbred. Clip clop my heels down the mall, past the Lindt Cafe.

I daydream how fun it would be to whinny loud and gallop through the commuters. Council workers perched, having lunch. Kid in cool skate shoes yelling to his mate. Buzz and thrum of Sydney beneath the GPO sandstone.

I feel strong and determined, my flanks lean and ready to run til foaming. But frustration bites at me. How do I channel this energy? Why can’t 24million people look after the ones who need it better. What has happened to our herd?

It‘s strange being in concrete and trees and bustle after months on beaches and country roads. Clip clop my heels through Sydney. Don’t whinny 😂

As the frustration bubbles to the top of my consciousness a shout cuts through my bleak musings. “Get in quick! Selling faster than Taylor Swift!” The Big Issue vendors. Australian social enterprise. “We take card now!” he says with a grin and I pull out my bank card. I‘m buoyed by social change here in motion, right in front of my snout!

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

I’m still figuring out maximum impact. But I’m putting one foot in front of the other. I’m not letting overwhelm feed paralysis. Eat the elephant bite by bite.


The toilet on a flower shop, and running bare

I have always admired nudity in public, particularly as it’s not usually the good-looking people who seem to lead the way.

Look at every streaker to ever grace a sporting field: white ass blazing and skin slapping.

 

While in San Fran we had a stroke of luck. The annual Bay to Breakers Race was on….kicking off about two blocks from our hotel.

 

Everyone dresses up for it and there are skill levels from the Kenyans, who do the long distance as a sprint, right down to the fraternity kids who have been drinking since daybreak.

 

We got in position and let the chaos unfold around us. It was sensational.

San Francisco brought out its best.

 

There were of course the typical annoying drunk people, young kids who think being loud equals being the most drunk. Just like me ten years ago!

 

A guy pissed on the street and we moved positions.

 

The bad-ass San Fran cops cleared the streets and the buzzer sounded. We didn’t really know what we were in for.

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The African runners led, naturally, their long limbs eating the bitumen with grace and ease. The metre-eaters as my friend would say.

 

Then, in the pack of serious runners close behind, we spotted our first naked people.

 

The man was starkers and the woman (being liberated but not irrational) wore a sports bra. If you’re in it to win it the bounce factor is not an option.

 

Everyone got excited and a guy running past yelled out “What? Haven’t you ever seen a naked person before?”

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Well if you hadn’t, today was your day! We stopped counting at 50.

All sorts of bodies came by completely bare. There was a great contingent of proud older men, most with penis rings or decorated headwear. There was a definite salute to San Fran’s gay community and gay and lesbian rights movement.

 

Get a costume. Get trotting.

Get a costume. Get trotting.

There were rainbow flags, groups of 15 people joined as caterpillars by ropes, a guy dressed as a soccer goal -who people kept tripping over, a bunch of men dressed as cheerleaders, some face-painted terrorists in camouflage underpants, a set of tetris blocks, bedazzled breasts and beaded chests, President Obama, a guy juggling as he ran, Spongebob Squarepants, lots of burgers, skeletons, zombies, a giant upside down letter R, the Goldengate Bridge, and…my favourite, a strip of bacon and his mate holding a pancake pourer, as shake and bake.

 

Shake and bake!

Shake and bake!

It was a parade of the weird and wonderful, and made me love the city more.

 

Every now and then a serious runner would pass; eyes straight ahead, dodging naked butts and Mr Potato Heads.

 

Good on all who bared all. That is what living in a liberal city is all about.

 

On the train I talked to two San Fran cops to get the measure of the place. I’d heard the cops here were pretty violent, but these two were exceptionally nice.

 

“We don’t have much trouble on the Breakers day,” the male cop told me.

“Usually we just ask people to put their clothes back on afterwards, but it’s not really a problem.”

 

He was from New York City and told me it had changed a lot since the 9/11 attack, with cameras virtually everywhere in the centre.

 

“What are the cops in Australia like?” they asked me.

 

Hmm…how to answer that one!

On the whole good, I told them. Some have power trips like bouncers, but in my experience mostly good.

 

Hats off to them I reckon. I wouldn’t have the patience.

 

We got off at Castro , a neighbourhood with a large gay community and great cafes. A guy returning home from the morning’s race walked past completely starkers and a bum yelled at him.

A bum yelling at a bum.

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The subway station had a plaque dedicated to Harvey Milk, the famous gay politician who had secured important rights in San Francisco. An enormous rainbow flag flew against the blue sky, and well-dressed people walking niche breeds of dogs stopped to chat on their door stoops or at shop fronts.

 

The next day, and this simply must be included, we saw some shit go down. Literally.

 

We were waiting with the business crowd to catch a morning bus. Everyone was respectable, freshly scrubbed and in their day’s attire. My friend was telling me a story when over her shoulder I caught sight of….

 

A homeless woman had dropped her pants and was leaning her bum up against what looked like a bus stop. It was actually a donga that housed a flower shop, which had not yet opened for the morning. The poor florist when she arrived for work that day!

 

To my disgust she began to urinate. She dropped a tissue in it and picked it up. A man stopped walking, leaned on his walking stick and stared in disgust at the event.

 

Then she defecated. It made me feel sick.

 

She was clearly living on the streets, and when she had finished a homeless man wandered over and urinated in the same spot.

 

It was unexpected, gross and confronting.

As always though it was a pointed reminded about the seeming class gap in the city.

 

To get to the point that you would do that without a care in the middle of the morning peak hour, I don’t know if many of us can appreciate her circumstances til we’ve been there.

 

See my earlier post for a link to a great article written on San Fran’s homeless population and attitudes towards it.

 

The middle class people and I boarded the bus.

I wondered if she had some cardboard to block the cold sidewalk from seeping into her bones that night.