I wrote this post about humanity, because I had read a news article that proved to motivate me to write. However, I did not quite make the point I was going for in that post as I had also found this great piece on the evolution of human empathy.
So, in an attempt to stay on track today, HERE is the article that made me want to write about Humanity, well, at least the lack of it. Mind you, this point may still take some time to make, so bear with me.
The article is a story of a young couple who have moved to "the city" (Wollongong) from Forbes, to try to find work and accommodation. They were staying with a relative, on the couch. Due to unforeseen circumstances, they are now in temporary accommodation while they look for a rental property they can afford.
Again, it is not this actual story that made me think about humanity, well, except for the part where the young lady talks about feeling judged because of her homeless status, no, it was the comments that appeared after the story, written by people who had read the story and had made judgements about this young lady, based on 650 words and 1 photo.
There were superficial judgements based on the fact the young lady has a couple of tattoos, they judged her because of her age, they brought into question her family assuming they were negligent, and it went on. Self professed Landlords citing they would not allow anyone with tattoos to rent one of their properties. Thankfully there were a few clear thinking people who left retaliatory comments in defence of the young lady, and people with tattoos.
I have to disclose right here that I have a personal interest in matters of housing and homelessness. As some of you may know, I too have had a few problems securing long term accommodation for myself and my two sons due to the specific needs around LJ's safety and security associated with his disability.
It is because of my experience and this story about a young couple just trying to get a start in life, not to mention all the other stories I have heard as a bi product of my own journey, that has lead me to feel the need to explain a few things about the world of rental accommodation and social housing to the many who have not had the opportunity to live in that world and experience it first hand.
PUBLIC HOUSING FACTS:
Public Housing and Community Housing Organisations only have so many properties available to rent to their clients. (Which is why the waiting lists are currently so long, they have none available.)
They rely on "natural attrition" for properties to become available.
In NSW, Housing NSW are selling properties that are in prime locations back to the public and not reinvesting that money back into replacement accommodations for their client waiting list, reducing the accommodations available while the number of clients increases.
People on those waiting lists are forced back into the private rental market to compete for properties.
Many people in the general population have never rented a property in their lives having lived at home and saved until they married and bought a home of their own. Some people's experience of renting may only extend to when they went on holiday. Some people may have rented for a short period of time while they saved for a deposit for their own home. Some people choose to rent and not to buy, often being able to find a rental property and be lucky enough to stay for many years in the one place. There are many scenarios here. And I will not take away from these people that have been conscientious and worked very hard to attain their goals.
The one thing all these people have in common, is they obviously all have some sort of consistent income. Now, I am not saying they are privileged or have any better opportunity than others, some would say, this is how most people live.
Well, that is not quite right.
Impacting factors that might not allow other people to make these same choices or have a stable income are their level of education, hence their inability to earn a reasonable wage, or find job security, they may have come from families who are already in crisis because of Domestic Violence, Gambling Addiction, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse, Mental Health Diagnosis, Disability, Cultural Diversity and Language barriers etc etc, therefore, have no support, no back up, they are on their own, or having to care for other family members, often from a very early age.
Sometimes, bad things simply do happen to good people.
During the time I have been in what they call "Housing Stress", I have had the opportunity to meet some really inspirational people, none so inspiring as a lady I met because she was volunteering at a charity that had helped her and her family when they were homeless. Mind you, that is a very common response from those who are truly trying to get back on their feet, to give back.
She and her husband had both worked very hard, neither of them were huge income earners, but they had a home and a mortgage, 2 cars and kids and were happy. After three kids, they decided to go for another, and were blessed with twins. They knew then they had completed their family and were content. I'm not sure exactly when, but sadly, tragedy struck and one of their beautiful twins passed away as a result of cot death.
This loss tore their lives apart. Neither of them were able to recover from their grief. The Mum had previously given up her job because she needed to look after 5 kids and so Dad was the only wage earner left. He fell into a deep state of depression and despite their best efforts, he was finally unable to work. They slowly started to sell what they could to keep on top of things, but eventually, they had nothing else to sell and had to sell their home. Because they had already been struggling to keep it, there was nothing left over once the sale went through and the debt was paid. They were now homeless with 4 children to care for.
They did spend one night in their car, but thankfully were assisted with Emergency accommodation from an organisation which deals in helping families.
That organisation helped them both to seek the medical care they needed and they allowed themselves time to process their grief and slowly, and very carefully, started to seek support in other areas. They had been too embarrassed to ask for assistance prior to this, and too proud.
Now, they are public housing clients and are getting back on their feet, they believe they will own their own home again one day, all they needed was a little help to get them back on track.
Or as I like to say, and hand up, not a hand out.
Unfortunately, when you mention "Homelessness" to most people, the image they get is usually something like this fairly famous image …
That stigma is not only reflected in dealing with Landlords, it is carried over to many other areas. How do you think "No fixed address" looks on a job application?
Every form you fill in these days asks for a residential address. Medicare, Centrelink, Drs etc all require an address.
When I experienced homelessness, I had friends who did not believe me. They thought I was exaggerating, being a drama queen, stretching the truth!
I can assure you, it is hard enough to have to say those words, to admit it to anyone when it is true, why the hell would anyone PRETEND they were homeless? The stigma it brings with it is soul crushing.
So, I ask you all this very day, be more empathic, have some humility, be more considerate of other people's circumstances, consider they may really be having a hard time and need a short term hand up, not a hand out.
My Happy Ending will be when the Public Housing System is a solutions based service which will help people to recover from life's tragedies, not just keep kicking them when they are down.