Without a home stories
I guess I've lived a very fortunate life - I've never been homeless. One of my best friends however, Matthew Walker, spent several years homeless Australia and even more years homeless in the United States before he was able to pick his life up again. He's currently doing very well, and we go spearfishing together sometimes, but of all his incredible stories, it captured my heart when he retold me told some of the stories of other homeless people he met on the street, soup kitchens and in shelters.
The scary part was this: it can happen to any of us. Maybe it's hard to imagine, because most of us are lucky enough to have a close family network, and maybe you're even lucky enough to own a house and have savings. Even for the luckiest person it can all disappear. It's not just people with histories of abusive families and sexual assault. People lose their families to car crashes, drugs… people lose their jobs, their homes, their physical health or sometimes their mental health. Add to that depression, health conditions, disfigurement, war injuries, defaulted homes, divorce, violence, hospital bills, drug addiction. There's a lot that can go wrong in our lives - much of it totally out of our control, so I think it's important to realize that for every person down on their luck and without a home... well that could have been you. None of us should be so presumptuous to assume that if we were born into that person shoes, we would have turned out any different.
When I see someone homeless, I often feel compelled to ask "what's your life story". I'm curious to know how they got there. When I'm asked for money I'm much less likely to think that. Just like most people, I'm suspicious that the money might go towards alcohol or drugs. This is especially true Australia where we have work for the dole systems which generally give every person enough allowance to live in times of their unemployment. Our system has it's own controversy, but part of me prefers it to the US where if you become homeless you're more likely to die in the street. Regardless of whether you think a homeless person deserves $5, they have an interesting story to tell. It's probably sad, and hard to hear, but it's also a reminder of how lucky we are, and helps us consider a growing problem around the world.
I don't do this often, but after meeting Matt, there have been a few times I've sat down beside a homeless person to ask their life story. Honestly, I rarely go to cities - I've always lived on the outskirts, so I get much less exposure to this than most people who walk past it everyday… but then again, maybe why I sometimes feel compelled to ask.
- Personal Project:
- StrawberriesForSmiles.com (my person project) - My pet project where I deliver weekly strawberries to homeless people on my walk to work.
- Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars (theguardian.com) - Adjunct professors in America face low pay and long hours without the security of full-time faculty. Some, on the brink of homelessness, take desperate measures - by Alastair Gee in San Francisco.
- Helping the Homeless: A Service Guide (book) - There are over half a million homeless in the US, with over 100,000 in California. Over 2/5 of them are children (under 18)... most with their families but 45 thousand of them alone. I searched Amazon for "How the help the Homeless" and surprisingly few books came up, and I thought I'd give this one a chance. I gave it 5 stars and wrote an article about it.
- Those Who Wander: America’s Lost Street Kids - In Those Who Wander, Vivian Ho delves deep into a rising subculture that’s changing the very fabric of her city and all of urban America. Moving beyond the disheartening statistics, she gives voices to these young people—victims of abuse, failed foster care, mental illness, and drug addiction. In 2015, the senseless Bay Area murders of twenty-three-year-old Audrey Carey and sixty-seven-year-old Steve Carter were personal tragedies for the victims’ families. But they also shed light on a more complex issue.