I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Homeless at Christmas?

Have you ever put yourselves in the shoes of a homeless person?
A homeless person at Christmas?
And in saying the above, I'm assuming that this person has shoes that you can put your feet into ...

You may never have thought about it, but there are thousands of people out there, just on the edge of our suburbs of plenty, who live on the streets or even in bushland, with never a roof over their heads.

They often go cold and they go hungry.

They are lonely and they are stigmatised.

Without thought we comfortable people attach labels such as 'useless' and 'no-hopers' to those who are different, when they're mostly just down on their luck, or ill.

How can a homeless person shower each day? How can they afford a hair cut or shaving gear?

By far the greatest percentage of homeless people have some type of mental illness, ranging from the dreaded schizophrenia to depression and anxiety.

People with psychosis often live with demons in their head. These demons all seem very real and may swamp a person's life with threats and intimidation from insistent voices.

Other sufferers may be afraid of electricity, thinking it lethal or attached to entities they (and we) can't understand. Some KNOW that strangers from outer space are after them, or have implanted electronic tracking devices in their bodies.

Imagine it!

These hallucinations and delusions are often non stop and people with them must cope every day, combatting competing forces within their minds. No wonder they find it hard to keep a job, or be consistent enough to maintain the lease of a house. How could you even watch television? If there was one around!

It is thought that about one in four people suffer a mental illness in some time in their lives, and many more people (families, employers, neighbours, friends) are touched by it.

Many homeless people haven't seen their families for years and others have split up with their partners.

And what's more the pity, increasingly homeless people include parents with children. Whole families.

Yes, even in the most wealthy of countries families are losing their homes - and that's been going on long before the present global financial crisis. Ity could happen to any of us.

What would you do if that happened? How could you cope?

Homeless shelters are filled to overflowing these days. Rents are exhorbitant.

You're put out of your house because a month ago you lost your job which was only part time and casual anyway. Because of this family savings are non-existent.

Where do you put your bits and pieces? Where do you and yours lay your heads that night? And the next?

I'm sorry to be serious but the world must think of these things more often, especially in the months to come. Governments too. Primarily governments. But individuals can help by simply being aware and doing what we can.

As a volunteer, I run a support group for carers and families of people with a mental illness. We meet twice a month in the local library and the people who come to us often say the group has 'changed their lives'. We don't do much except be there and understand ...

It is huge when families discover that there are many others out there in the same boat. Carers swap their stories and their experiences, and the result is exciting.

Every year since 2004 we have been doing just a little to help mentally ill people who are homeless or down on their luck at Christmas.

Local service clubs help us with money and a Lions Club - the Lions Club of Terranora in Northern NSW Australia - gives us Christmas cakes. Members run sausage sizzles at local shopping centres through the year, to raise the funds.

We try to ferret out the most needy in our community to receive these small boxes of joy. Some we find literally on the streets or sleeping on the river bank. There are so many if you look.

So our Christmas cakes must go a long way. Local community organisations who care about these things are thrilled when we call with promises of the gifts. Last year the need was so great that some cakes were cut in half so they would go further ...

It's pretty special to know that at least some of our needy learn at Christmas that someone does care.

A happy and thoughtful pre-Christmas to all of my bloggy mates.

June in Oz

By the way I posted episode 9 of my Australian mystery novel 'Paternity' on Journeys in Creative Writing today. You can begin at the beginning by clicking here and scrolling down to November 16 Episode One.


  1. I have volunteered with groups that have worked with these people. You really have to see it up close with your own eyes to realized the horror of their lives. People here and in Portland, Oregon where I lived before, lived under bridges, in the most awful places. Many of these were men with post traumatic stress disorder that so many of our soldiers end up living with after tours in Iraq, just as they did in Vietnam. It was one of the reasons I wrote the book I did, true it is fiction, but the disorder is real and Iraq has just taken the place of Vietnam. And it isn't just those, but so many more! It breaks my heart to see so many people in need -- physically, finacially, mentally -- you name it. And does the government give a damn? I hope Obama does. I guess we'll see in the next few years. Thanks for your post, we all need to be aware.

  2. Thanks for the heartfelt post Sylvia. Your novel (running now folks) is an illustration of what can happen in the lives of families of former soldiers. A good read.

  3. Hi June, I think this is an issue that is going to grow. Once upon a time I worked at Social Security (now Centrelink) in Canberra. People assumed that Canberra was affluent without homeless people. How wrong they were. There was a man living out the front of the office in a cardboard box. So many stories I have and I recall them vividly to this day.

    I have also someone close to me who suffers from bi-polar and prior to getting medication she was living in her car. If that was not enough she has now been diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease and she is 50. I care for her as best I can and with respect for how much she wants me to do for her. Assisting people to be independent is crucial. My daughter once bought a boy home from the bus stop and he lived with us for months. Sure I thought she was crazy (she was 16)but I love her kind heart even if it will result in hurt sometimes when people take advantage. He had nowhere else to go and once I checked out his story I was happy to have him stay with us.

    I salute you truly for volunteering to do this much needed work. The thing is, any of us could be in that situation. Many live pay to pay. The economic times are becoming worse and people's security will go with it. We all must look after each other as much as we can.

    Mental illness is not something people ask for. There by the grace of God go I. It is something I repeat often. There are always people worse off. Giving is the best thing we can do for ourselves. Thanks for the thoughtful post June I somehow knew you were a lovely human being. I bleieve in karma too - wha tyou give you will get back in bucketloads.

    By the way, I have to catch up with your novel. I am behind. Will be reading it later!

  4. I agree Lilly. I think homelessness will grow for many reasons - unless society puts its shoulders to the wheel for a concerted effort, re-arranging priorities.
    Leave even the economy aside, there is still so much stress these days and people find relief (sadly) via alcohol and drugs.

  5. You're right, June...and if they don't listen, they'll end up like India.

  6. Braja
    You have a point my girl! And you saw the results first hand this past week during a visit to Calcutta. It was a great post with wonderful descriptions - presented with a touch of light heartedness.

  7. June,

    Given how commercialized most festivals have become, this post was really required, for all of us to realize that there is more to giving than to acquiring. The best gift one can give a child, any Christmas, is a value system, that says, everytime you feel grateful to God that you have so much., think and help those who do not.

    I salute you for your volunteer work. And may we all learn to be similarly of use to those in need , not just on festivals, but throughout the year. .....

  8. SURANGA - you are so very right about thinking of others throughout the year, not just at festival times.
    I truly believe that empathy is one of the most important of gifts. If empathy is matched with action and practical generosity, so much the better!

  9. Thank you for this post, June, and for the volunteer work that you do. Here is something I didn't realize, but found out when a family member became homeless a couple of winters ago. Shelters are open for the night, but have to close their doors (funding? staffing?) during the day, even during winter. So my family member had to stay in her car during the day until one day the car was towed away. Luckily, the situation was eventually resolved, but this is just a glimpse of what homeless people face. You are right, it is easy not to see or to forget about these people. Thank you for reminding everyone.

  10. June, As you know I worked with these people for years in my career. So many times all they need is just someone to care and offer a helping hand just for a little while until they can get on their feet. I have truly seen people with nothing get their pride back and begin new lives and be successful. I have seen young mothers on welfare with no hope, get their GED's, go to work and make a home for their children. It can be one of the most satisfying things in life to help a person in need.

  11. Yes most shelters turf out their clients to the streets during the day.They couldn't cope otherwise.
    Here even the community mental health service closes down over the Christmas holidays when it's needed most, leaving a skeleton staff on deck. As you know Clair people with mental health problems often feel great stress at Christmas (and after office hours year around). That's when they need enhanced services - not diminished ones.

  12. JUDY You are still helping people in need - kind lady!
    Self esteem is central to a person's efforts in life. If you think you're worthless, what's the use of bothering?

  13. Even in our small town we have scores of homeless. They open what few shelters they have when the temperatures dip to 15 degrees. They open at nine and close at six. I guess one doesn't get cold at 16 degrees. I know it has to do with funding but maybe fewer Christmas decorations around town could provide some real warmth!

  14. DOGWALK:
    I agree wholeheartedly that shelter for cold human beings is preferable to excess Christmas decorations. Where ARE our priorities?

  15. A very thoughtful post June. The greatest gift one can give is of ourselves to bring a glimmer of hope to the less fortunate. Cheryl

  16. June,

    thats a very thoughtful post and a thought provoking one too.

    I wish it would become a tradition to buy atleast one gift for a homeless person for every family while they do their christmas shopping.

    It would make such a world of difference.

  17. PINKU - that's a nice idea, but it would be better if they had homes. Our societies should be more willing to truly share things around equally.

  18. This is an important issue, June, and it really gets at the whole meaning of Christmas (for those of us who are Christians). I heard an interesting discussion about Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," today. It was interesting to learn that there was not a single Christmas tree nor single gaily wrapped gift in the whole book. Aside from the fact that these were not yet part of the holiday tradition, Dickens was concerned with poverty and injustice. He did not holid much with organized religion and was a Unitarian. So you are right on track to remind us all about what's important.

  19. TROPIGAL Yes, Dickens was so important in raising consciousness towards the hard up. His poor characters were real and had legitimate needs and loves. His serialised newspaper stories must gave been a revelation to the upper classes ...

  20. Mmm, Hard to realise that this goes on everywhere. Even in rural centres like mine we have some people living rough.

    It's terrible that as children we were so brain-washed with 'stranger danger' that we don't try to make connections with people living a different lifestyle to us - even to smile and say g'day. - and then most of the truly horrifying things that happen to children are actually done by people known to the family.

    My husband talks about a bloke who used to live in a shed on the family farm when he was growing up - it wasn't much, but it was what they had and could share (they had done the same until the house was moved to the block). Now the Council would stop it. I guess the solutions need to be on a range of bases. Individual, community groups, and all levels of government.

  21. Thanks for your thoughtful post HIPPOMANIC JEN. Today I was ringing the groups who help us distribute the Christmas cakes each year, and there seemed to be more need than ever this time. What the Lions Club and our group do is a drop in the bucket but it's something. One organisation in a medium size town not far from my home welcomes homeless people (all the year around) who know they they can call in for a loaf of bread or a shower.
    Tomorrow they will be having a Christmas barbecue for 50 homeless people, many of whom live rough and some on the river bank.
    We have promised two dozen cakes. Most of these people would have a mental illness ...

    And ours is a comparative land of plenty.

  22. June dear,
    This is one admirable post showing the golden soul in you for caring to write about the homeless and provoking thoughts from your readers to look deeply into the plight of the poor people. Keep writing. God bless.

  23. Thank you BAI for the kind words. And thank you for being a caring person yourself.


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