Our world, the great melting pot of ideas.

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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.


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What not to do to a crack head, and the beauty of San Fran

I’m goooooooooing to Saaaaaan Fraaaaaan-cisco!

We were sick of using the GPS, so we simply aimed for the Golden Gate Bridge. Oh so famous, oh so pretty.

I had grown up hearing a lot about San Fran; streets that went on in ribbons to the horizon, hills skateboarders dream of and liberal people living their blessedly aware lives.

The home of gay politician and general social mover-and-shaker Harvey Milk, architecture akin to Paris or Portugal and everywhere trendy motherfu*#ers drinking coffee, walking dogs, lounging in parks or striding to work.

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It was a city very much alive with its population and I felt instantly at home in it.

High on the hill, looking out at the famous bridge. There was a sports car with giant teddy bears parked nearby, all wearing Giants baseball jerseys.

People were going nuts getting selfies beside them…but then the Giants did win the World Series last year, so I guess a selfie with a giant Giants bear was normal.

Looking across the water at Alcatraz it was impossible not to feel a slight chill as I imagined the desperate escapees plunging into the freezing water.

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We stayed up high, as one should in a big city, and ate strawberries above the throbbing centre of 4th Street.

Walking around in this city was spectacular. The buildings were gorgeous and on every turn you were confronted with people rocking great shoes, cool jackets or fantastic hair. It was a very trendy place.

I decided to step it up a bit and wear Sketchers (purchased of course from a great Toowoomba op-shop) instead of Havaianas!

We meandered over to China Town, where the fruit and veg was cheap – ideal for hostel cooking. There was also good food for around $10 a meal.

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A truck was parked outside the fish shop, a man pulling flapping catfish from its inside with a huge net. The whiskered things flopped madly in their captivity, probably sensing the end was near.

Inside turtles lay on their back, futilely pawing the air. A lady handed over $4 and three catfish said goodbye to the world via three efficient bashes from a lump of wood. Wham, bam thank you mam. Pleasure doing business. The frogs looked on aghast.

We walked on and soon hit a bottleneck of people at the top of a fantastic hill.

We were deep in the Nob Hill district, known as snob hill we later found out. Mercs were casually parked outside staggering houses.

The hill looked down onto the bay below, great ships turned museums waiting patiently for their long-dead captains.

But there was an even more impressive view. The skaters were here. On strange skinny boards that bent like planks they made their way down the corkscrew hill.

I watched as one guy waited for the cars to go, but losing his patience went anyway, GoPro on his helmet, pants low and hipness high.

Reaching the first bend he executed a neat 360 jump and was quickly at the back tyres of the black Chrysler driving slowly ahead of him. Dragging his foot as a break he gave a simple kick, a twist of his hips and was around it, speeding into the magnificent view at the bottom.

Skaters: Go to the corner of Lombard and Hyde Streets to test your skills.

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We walked for so long in this city but never got bored, so good were the sights, the people watching and the weather.

At the bay we watched gobsmacked as people cut laps in the freezing water. A man was drying his ears on the bleachers, his wetsuit stripped back from his torso.

“Looks a bit nippy out there,” I said. “How long were you swimming for?”

“Around 50 minutes, it’s ok as long as you keep your hands moving, your face gets used to it after a while.”

“What about the people without wetsuits!? Are they sane?”

“Actually there’s a swimming club up there which you can’t be in unless you swim without one.”

One way of keeping the whingers out I guess.

Anyone who’s been to San Fran will probably tell you in their first breath what a cool city it is and in their second how bad the homelessness is.

Homeless people seem to be everywhere. Everybody in San Fran wears good, closed in shoes because there is undoubtedly a lot of grottyness at foot level.

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I was waiting for a bus on Market St when the lady approached me. She had an old jacket on for when the sun drops and the wind shrieks through the CBD’s buildings. It was early in the morning. She had a face that looked like it had poured a lot out for other people over the years; been the comforter.

“Excuse me, I’m just trying to get something to eat, can you help me? I just wanna get two dollas for a…..for a hotdog or somethin’,” she said.

Everyone ignored her or looked away. It was around 9am.

Homeless people at the bus stop is like salt on chips.

She held out two silver tokens.

“I wouldn’t cheat you,” she said, looking at me with two brown eyes.

“You just put each one of these tokens in the slot machine when the bus pulls up and they get you a two dolla ride.”

I agreed to try it once the bus pulled up and hand the money back to her if it worked.

I didn’t ask her name, but she had been living on the streets for five months. She had slender fingers, which clutched her tokens, and she repeated her request often.

“The shelter kicks you out at 8am each morning and you can go back in at 12.”

The tokens worked and I handed back the $2, her face looking up at me like I’d just given her a house. I knew she was going to buy the hotdog she’d talked about.

I guessed they got the tokens at the shelter, but I also guessed they got meals there too. Who knows.

The city of San Francisco estimates the homeless population at around 7,350, based on a 2013 count. Of that, 1,902 were unaccompanied children or youth under 25.

http://www.sfgov3.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=4819

One of many safe havens offered by the city is ‘A Woman’s Place’ shelter: an ironic salute to the domestic violence problem that underlies many homeless women’s situations.

An excellent article which explores the dehumanisation of the city’s homeless can be read here: http://www.sfbg.com/2014/03/25/san-franciscos-untouchables

The part about the kids with the video camera is particularly sad. In an affluent city like San Fran the homeless seem to be viewed as a pain, not a social issue.

In the 2013 Point-In-Time Count of homeless persons in the city, 59% were found to be unsheltered.

Anyway, it was Saturday night and Aussie band Big Scary were playing at Mission, the land of cool bars and understated venues. They were good too.

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We caught a bus most of the way and then walked through some dodgy parts, past some dodgy people. And it was here I had my first encounter with a crack head.

We stood at the bus stop. I was wearing red lipstick, a backpacker’s secret weapon for looking good with limited space and money.

A homeless man dropped a coin onto the road and stepped down after it.

“Watch out dude, car coming,” I yelled out as a taxi ht the breaks.

Instantly he came over to us. Godammit I thought. Wild eyed and rambling he got right up in my face asking for money in a garbled gremlin speak. I could barely understand him. Coming from Australia personal space is a given.

Without thinking I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him gently to the side, saying, “you can go up there, it’s better near the bus.”

Boom. Crack head went nuts. He spoke in gremlin again, animated and fast. I only caught “bitch.”

It boiled down to nothing and he went away. Luckily.

Lesson learned….never touch a crack head.

San Francisco however, was one of my favourite cities to date.

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