(photo credit: Nathan Beer)
The main characteristic that people experiencing homelessness have in common is their state of homelessness, and all the hardships that resultantly flow from it.
But that’s where it stops.
Flinders Street station. At the time, I wasn’t yet 18. A man, who was probably in his thirties but who looked to be well into his forties, with a defeated smile and thick black hair, approached us. He introduced himself, shook our hands, and said, with brutal honesty, that he was an addict, and that he needed change, not for food, or for shelter, or for anything else that would do him well; he needed change for his next hit and, as he said, he’d prefer not to lie about it – not even to us.
An older man with a grey, wiry beard and only a few golden teeth wobbled towards us, hat outstretched, asking for some change so that he could buy his next meal. We offered to take him to the nearest convenience store to buy him whatever he so pleased. He told us to f*^# off and walked away.
Sydney. A relatively young man, most likely in his thirties, approached us with one bad hand, bearing only three malformed and outstretched fingers. He, like the man in the story above, asked us for some spare change.
“I’m just looking for a meal.”
“Yeah?” I said. “We’ll take you to that 7-11 over there and buy you whatever you want.”
“Really?” he said, pleased and shocked.
And so we walked, and we talked. He told us about his story, which unfortunately I can’t remember. All I remember, however, is that he was an incredibly kind and friendly person. And that once we got to 7-11, all he asked for was a single pie and a can of Coke. “You don’t want to take something else for the road?”
“Nah, mate. This’ll do me plenty for now. I can’t thank you enough. If I’m ever down in Melbourne I’ll find you and buy you a beer; how’s that?”
It was late night after a drunken night out. There was a man sitting with a sign and a scroungy beard, observing all the menacing feet walking in and out of the McDonalds beside him, trying to ensure the few of his possessions at his feet weren’t kicked into the gutter. I sat next to him and we spoke. He was trying to get into youth work, but because he didn’t have an address, he wasn’t able to complete his application. (Can’t say I’ve ever had that problem before.)
“Can’t you get any help from Centrelink (Melbourne’s department of human services)? Can’t they provide you an address?”
“Yeah, they can. But, well, you know what government systems are like.”
That, I do.
He was well-spoken, highly articulate, bright, kind, and funny. I offered him a meal from McDonalds; he declined it, as he was happy enough for the few coins I dropped into his hat.
I’ve not personally ever worked for a homeless shelter nor have I been involved in any organisations or groups that deal directly with homeless people on a regular basis.
I’m just one person, who has (on occasion) taken the time to stop and to listen and to see those who are often not seen, or heard, or acknowledged.
Homelessness is all around us. It affects over 100,000 people right here, in Australia. The most saddening part about this sad situation, however, is that people experiencing homelessness have to deal with far more than the obvious:
They have to deal with the misinformed stigmas and misconceptions woven into their situation.
The stigmas and misconceptions that lump all homeless people into the same maligned pot.
- That homelessness is a choice
- That people are homeless out of a lack of will or desire for a better life
- That all homeless people are self-made junkies, who don’t deserve our empathy or affection
These are stigmas and misconceptions that aren’t only harmful and nefarious, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The 1000 Strangers Project
What we aim to do with the 1000 Strangers Project is to shine some light on the people behind the faceless bodies experiencing homelessness.
Every week The Odd Sock team will dedicate one day to walking around the streets of Melbourne, chatting to people evidently doing it rough, snapping their picture and sharing a slither of their story through our Instagram account @1000strangers – 1000 times over.
We’ll be giving each person we speak with one fresh pair of socks.
… but we’d love to give a little more.
So if you’re a business or know of a business who might want to contribute to our little project – we’re looking for things like long-life foods and drinks, gift vouchers for supermarkets or hair cuts or dry cleaning services – please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, you can show your support by spreading the word! And helping us to make this little project bigger and better than we could possibly make it ourselves.
Thanks for reading, and for your support. There’ll be more on the 1000 Strangers Project coming very soon.
Everyone’s story deserves to be heard.