Homelessness, Advent, Perth 2016

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.

Advent wreath 2016

Advent wreath 2016

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.

Raising awareness of homelessness

Raising awareness of homelessness

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.

4 thoughts on “Homelessness, Advent, Perth 2016

  1. A great invitation to all of us Maureen for this Advent – even for those who do not celebrate Advent it can be an invitation to enter into the adventure of compassion.

    • I hoped the invitation would appeal to those with different frameworks than mine, Elizabeth. But I find it hard to write ‘framework-neutral’pieces these days. Thank you for taking the time to comment, dear friend.

    • You are a good woman, Rae! I’ve read about that on your Facebook page, and I’m very impressed. Where do you pass the people you give food and coffee to? They must be very grateful. Glad you like the Advent calendar idea, I was very impressed when I first read about it.

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