Homelessness. I’ve been thinking about it a lot this Advent. It hangs heavily on my mind. I’ve known about homelessness since I was a young woman. I’m beginning to see it differently now, thanks to a series of apparently random events earlier this year led to an invitation for me to manage a writing project for the Spirit of the Streets Choir. I’ve heard stories about homelessness from members of the choir.
Sixty-odd years ago, as a trainee nurse in quieter times, I saw homeless men and women present in the Accident and Emergency Department of Royal Perth Hospital. Mostly, they complained of minor ailments. With a wink and nudge between the Sister-in-Charge and some junior resident, they were often admitted a ward for the night. We bathed them, washed them, and put them to beds where they could sleep safely. We gave them a couple of good feeds and sent on their way the next morning.That would never happen now.
The Spirit of the Streets (SOS) Choir sings at events run by Oz Harvest and Ruah and Homeless Connect. On Christmas Day they will sing for the 2000 people who’ll eat Christmas lunch provided by Mission Australia in Wellington Square Park. The SOS Choir has raised my consciousness in many ways.
Homelessness seems harsher in 2016. It has a sharper edge. Daily, I discover different aspects, become aware of its nuances, try to imagine what it might feel like.
There’s an Advent wreath on our dining-room table, a symbol of hope and part of our traditional preparation for Christmas. This year, ours is a simple wreath of greenery, with four candles and some ribbon. We lit the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent, and for the next three Sundays we light another so that the light increases. There’s more information about Advent wreaths here.
Next to the wreath sits a basket into which we put a small unwrapped gift each morning as we mark off the days of Advent. This is our first attempt at a reverse Advent ‘calendar‘. Our gifts will go to charity which provides (among many other things) showers for people who might otherwise have none. They will be a tiny token in the face of widespread homelessness in Perth.
Our contributions will be used by people who sleep rough – men and women on park benches, in doorways, under bridges. The people who sleep on cardboard boxes, covered in old army coats. They’re the stereotype of homelessness.
Some other faces of homelessness
Homelessness doesn’t always mean sleeping in parks or doorways. Homeless people in Perth, sometimes also with children,
- Sleep in their cars
- Couch-surf, sleeping for a few nights in any available space in friends’ houses, and moving around regularly
- Pick up someone for the night in a bar or club and go home with them to someone else’s warm bed and hot shower
- Camp out in tents or makeshift shelters
- Following assault of domestic violence, throw themselves on the mercy of Crisis Care, who may or may not be able to find them a bed in a women’s shelter or a motel.
I haven’t even begun to talk about asylum seekers, refugees, displaced Aboriginal people…
This Advent perhaps we could pause to think of the men, women and children who, like Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, protagonists of the first Christmas, find themselves homeless.