Winter has arrived and the weather has got really chilly. As I start to search for my really warm winter clothes, and feel frustrated that even though its getting colder each evening as it gets later, that I have to turn my air-conditioning off at 10.30, because my neighbour complains. But then I watched a program on SBS, which was a discussion group about the problems of homelessness. They had launched a new series, called ‘Filthy Rich and Homeless’ and they had brought together the five filthy rich people that had been involved in the show, as well as a forum of homeless people in a kind of discussion/ promotion group.

The overwhelming result of the ‘experiment’ of putting the five very rich people on the streets of their city, with no cash and no idea of how to survive, had the result of a huge amount of empathy being generated. To those of us not endowed with natural empathy (being able to put yourself into the feelings and situation of another), walking in the shoes of another is the next best thing. The five spoke unanimously about how unbelievably difficult it was, how humiliating to have to beg for money, how physically painful it was sleeping rough and not to mention frightening. Two of the five included a young girl and boy in their early 20’s, who still lived at home with their famous parents.

But the one thing they all repeatedly mentioned was how kind, generous and helpful the homeless people were to them, often taking them under their wing, sharing what little they had and showing them how to survive. It seems on reflection of this statement, that our abundance of money and pocessions, has robed us of our basic humanity. When everything is gone, your home, your money, your pocessions and your security, the one thing left is each other. It was interesting to hear the homeless people they had assembled, who repeated spoke of the major issue that contributed to their sense of helplessness, was their loss of ‘community’. Their sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and the network of support that belonging to such a community brings.

Some facts to ponder as we warm our bodies with a steaming hot shower to start each day and put on our warm winter woolies, enjoy our hot coffees, and travel to work in air-conditioned comfort.

*40% of homeless people in Australia are under 25, either kicked out by their families, have fled domestic violence, or are drug abusers of some sort.

*Over half of the homeless are women, many with children, fleeing domestic violence.

*The number of children in 2016 under 12 without a permanent home was 17,846 !

*Only 6% of homeless people sleep rough on the streets. The rest are hidden, living temporarily with family or friends, couch surfing, in their cars, in shelters, in cheap overcrowded accomodation or in makeshift dwellings. This means, the level of homelessness is soooooo much greater than we can even imagine, from what we see ourselves!

The one point that hit home with me was that homelessness is never a choice, and that most of us cannot even imagine how easy it is to go from your comfortable situation, to being homeless. With the very high costs of housing and renting (especially in Sydney) and with living expenses constantly rising, while wages rarely go up (unless you are a politician); homelessness can be literally one payslip away! Factors such as a sudden job loss; the death of a spouse who is the family bread winner; unexpected debt; injury; illness and family breakdown, can affect anyone.

Next time you see a homeless person, don't judge, send them lots of love, give them money, food or warm clothing, even a chap stick or hot coffee, whatever you can share. But more importantly don’t ignore them like they are invisible, god forbid it could be you one day and think how a smile or a chat could make you feel seen and cared about. We cannot ever hope to fix this problem alone, but together we can make a difference and be a part of the solution.

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