This week is National Homelessness Week. And it asks us to do some soul-searching.
In the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness. Faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation. God is present in every one of you, in each one of us
These words invite us, and indeed challenge us, to reflect on homelessness on the streets of Australia today as we hold before us the quiet image of God’s presence in each person. Pope Francis shows great concern for homeless people. On a personal note – on his birthday he celebrated by inviting homeless people to the Vatican for breakfast and he regularly invites them in for a meal. Below is an excellent article by Andrew Hamilton SJ. Talk about the ideas in this article at home with your daughters. And, to discuss this and other issues of justice, you may like to encourage your daughter to join JPIC – Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation – Loreto’s Social Justice Group.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Dean of Mission
The cold wind that blows on the homeless chills us all
Andrew Hamilton | 03 August 2016
National Homelessness Week comes around each year. And each time it is an embarrassment. Rightly so.
We pride ourselves that we are a respectful society, but there is no greater sign of disrespect than to allow people to be homeless. Nothing eats into parents’ self-respect more than to wonder where they and their family will sleep each night. Too many Australians are in that situation. Too many people sleep on the streets; too many families sleep in their cars.
In many of our cities this year homeless people are more visible than usual. They put their bedding on the footpaths, congregate at night in public squares, and attract more media. Some people demand that they be ‘moved on’; others insist that accommodation be found for them; governments and municipal councils talk about solutions.
Many reasons are given for their greater visibility. The most obvious is that many more people are homeless. Experts point to the shortage of housing, particularly of public housing, and of affordable rental housing. This leaves people who lose their jobs or fall ill more vulnerable to homelessness.
The increase in the number of homeless people is yet another marker of a society in which the economy does not serve the needs of ordinary people, let alone the urgent needs of the most disadvantaged.
Some people who live on the streets also say that they avoid temporary shared accommodation because there they are vulnerable to robbery and violence. Many young people have never had a home worthy of the name. At the earliest opportunity they have left violent or neglectful homes.
They also lack the social skills and opportunities to learn or to work. So they find themselves homeless in the city, at risk of exploitation and addiction.
People who are homeless are also beginning to organise. They come together at night for protection, and demand long-term housing as a right, not as a privilege. This encourages their self-respect and pride and counteracts the shame homelessness can bring. They have learned that invisibility nurtures neglect, whereas being seen and heard may open the way to change.
“The increase in the number of homeless people is yet another marker of a society in which the economy does not serve the needs of ordinary people, let alone the urgent needs of the most disadvantaged.”
Whatever the reasons, it is not the visibility of homeless people that is the problem, but their homelessness. But to address it requires that we go beyond identifying it. As a problem it can seem intractable and be put into the too-hard bin. If instead, though, we see the faces of people who are homeless, as this week encourages us to do, it all becomes simple. In a wealthy society like ours people who are homeless have a right to shelter for themselves and their families. It is essential for their self-respect. So homelessness is a scandal and must not be allowed to continue.
To address the conditions that contribute to people being homeless is more complex. But that, too, begins with seeing homeless people as people, and then asking them how they came to be on the streets and what forces them to stay there. Their answers will be various. They may speak of a violent and neglected childhood, of mental illness, of the lack of opportunity to learn or work, of addiction and ill fortune, of the lack of emergency accommodation and of money.
These afflictions are part of the lives of many vulnerable young people. That is why homelessness is often a reality, and always a threatening possibility, in their lives. For that threat to recede they need support in connecting with society. And of course a necessary support to staying connected is secure and lasting access to shelter. It is heartbreaking, intolerable, to think of our young children or grandchildren having nowhere to call home.
It is easy to walk past people who are evidently homeless, to avoid their eyes and eventually not to notice them. It is a little harder to drop money in their tin as we pass by. We may find it a little harder still to stop and chat, interested to hear their story and tell our own. But only when we do that do we see them as people like ourselves and ask how things can change for them and us.
What must change in us is our tolerance of an economic and political ideology that assumes it is all right for the humanity of the vulnerable and ill to be neglected in order to protect the entitlements of the wealthy. The cold winds that blow unchecked under the bridges where the homeless sleep have their source in an arctic economic world that puts profit over people.