I don’t hide the fact I have been homeless. My daughters and I lived in a garage in 2009/2010 then in 2013 stayed at other people’s homes for a while. Fortunately, we were never rough sleepers, but we were also never able to get into a shelter, despite trying. I have had a lot to do with the homeless the past year or so and it saddens me to see how some get treated. Even worse is the laws some governments have passed, homeless spikes being put in (due to reactions, some have been removed) and laws creating issues feeding the homeless.
Do people not realize how close they or family members are to becoming homeless? Domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness in Australia, followed by financial difficulties (e.g. job loss). Many of the homeless I have met didn’t become homeless through addictions or mental illness. Most were victims of abuse, especially the women and children, yet the stigma remains that all homeless are addicts or mentally ill.
Over 50% of people seeking help from a shelter are turned away each night. Homelessness is society’s problem, one we have a responsibility and the ability to help fix.
What can you do to help?
It’s not hard to help the homeless. You don’t even need to change your habits to make a difference.
Be aware and be prepared
You probably think you could never be homeless, but you’re wrong. Homeless isn’t just living out on the streets, it is those in shelters, in short term accommodation, living with family and friends etc. I had no idea when I was in the garage that I was homeless. We had a roof over our heads, a bed and access to a bathroom and kitchen in my friends house. While it wasn’t ideal, I knew where we were sleeping every night.
It’s better to know what to do if you are or are at risk of becoming homeless than it is to find yourself in that situation, unsure what to do. (Also see Complete list of things to use your low income/pension/senior/health care cards for.)
On top of knowing what to do, get your finances in order now. Pay down debt, save money, learn to live more frugally, take control of your finances, do the 30 day money makeover and look for ways to make more money. (Also check out 29 ways to make money and top 29 posts on ways to make and save money which includes ways to make money in school hours and from home.)
Don’t judge, just say hello
You have no idea why someone is homeless, so don’t judge them. Yes, they might be drinking or something now, but it doesn’t mean that is what made them become homeless, it might just be their coping mechanism. How would you cope if you were abused and fled for fear of your safety, but were turned away from shelters? Or if you were thrown out of home? Or lost your job and evicted? What if after months of searching you still had no job, were on the streets and just trying to survive?
I often amaze people when they discover I don’t drink or that I didn’t turn to alcohol to cope with the things I have been through. I was raised not drinking, I don’t like the loss of control, nor the taste and I am highly motivated. Not everyone is like this and I know, without family support and without my daughters I would not have coped as well as I have.
Please don’t ignore the homeless or disadvantaged. It is easy to avert your eyes, but just say hello (provided it is safe to do so, if someone is clearly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, do not approach them.) Many homeless people feel invisible and a simple conversation can brighten their day drastically. A simple hello or a short conversation has stopped many from committing suicide.
Shop with socially conscious merchants
Many items we purchase have options which donate a portion to the homeless or who work directly with charities. A few of the ones I have come across are:
One Night Stand has sleepwear and linens. The founder, Jamie, was homeless himself, so understands how hard it is and is giving back with a product we all use.
Swags has backpack beds and some other camping gear. You can also donate a backpack bed to the homeless through them.
Streat has coffee and cafes with proceeds helping the homeless. (Melbourne based).
Paddington Markets – Sydney support Sydney’s homeless too.
Dinesmart is an initiative where restaurants encourage donations for the homeless.
The Big Issue! Seriously, it’s a great magazine and only $6, with 50% of that going directly to the person you are buying it from!
Good quality corporate wear can be donated to certain charities to be given to the homeless or disadvantaged to help them find a job. Think about it, looking for a job can be expensive – you need good clothes, shoes and a bag, you need to present well, you need childcare if you are a parent, you need to travel to interviews etc. The costs add up but if you donate your clothing you can help reduce some of those expenses for someone who is trying to get back on their feet.
Other items, such as furniture, can be donated to be sold via charity shops or used to furnish homes.
Goods are great, but cash is also needed, donate to charities or directly to those in need. If you do donate, check to see if your donation could be matched to go twice as far.
I am doing the CEO Sleepout for the first time. I did the Centenary Sleepout last year and will be doing the Community Sleepout later this year as well. I enjoy the sleepouts and while it is not a ‘real’ homeless experience because we all go home to our beds the next day, there are quite a few who have been homeless and it does make you appreciate what you have more.
My goal is $2,000. This screenshot was taken 16th June, 2014. I’ll update it after the sleepout, when I will hopefully have reached my goal! Please click on the image or here to donate.
Official sleepouts aren’t the only way to participate though, you can arrange a fundraiser or sleepout for a youth group/school/workplace or other group you are involved with.
Have a donation jar at work. Sell things with proceeds going to the homeless. Encourage co workers to donate clothing, canned goods, toiletries or other items that can be donated.
Volunteer at events, at second hand shops, drop in centres, anywhere. If you have any spare time, even one day a month, look into ways you can use your skills to help the less fortunate.
Use your social media
At the very least raise awareness for events and campaigns and posts via your social media. If you are not in a position to help, maybe one of your contacts is.
I know that we can make a huge difference and there is no reason we can’t halve homelessness in the next few years. While you might thing your small donation doesn’t go far, consider this:
$10 can provide a family with breakfast for 2 weeks (via Communities@Work)
$15 can provide 15 meals for those in need and save 15kilos of food from landfill. (Via The Yellow Van)
$30 can provide breakfast for 20 young people through the Galilee School breakfast program.
Those aren’t large amounts, but they do make a difference!
So what will you do to help the homeless?