There are more homeless people in Sydney now than there used to be. It’s something that I worry about quite a lot. I used to do volunteer work with homeless youth and their stories would break your heart. Literally. I wanted to take them all home with me. So many of them had no one at all who loved them. No one at all.
I get very angry when I think of people living on the streets and how difficult it is for social workers and welfare organisations to help them. The money just isn’t there. I read about people who live in fifteen million dollar mansions right on the waterfront who complain about how difficult it is to get the Tuscan tiles they need for their spa bath through customs and I just want to punch them in the face.
I befriended a homeless man who used to live in our local park. He gave up on life when his wife and son were killed by a drunk driver. He lived in a sandstone cave with his cat. I used to take him food and warm clothes. He was an astounding artist. He could sketch absolutely anything.
One day I couldn’t find him and one of the council workers maintaining the gardens told me that he had died. The Council took all of his stuff and burned it, even his art. I was devastated they burned his art – I would have kept it forever.
There was an article in the local paper about him a month later. Turned out he had had a house of his own the entire time, he just couldn’t live in it all alone. His left his entire estate to charity. A distant nephew laid a claim on the estate but lost in court. I was glad, I don’t think he even knew his Uncle was living in the park.
I felt sad thinking about my old friend today and was inspired to write a short story.
To my friend Donald, this one’s for you…..
DEAR GOD, THIS IS KITTY.
This is Kitty Johnson. You probably know me. I’m 8 years old and I live in the house with the pink door. My brother thinks it’s a really ‘Barbie’ door. He wants to paint it black because he’s an emo and gets embarrassed when his friends come over and they laugh at the pink door. I don’t know why they laugh, it’s just a pink door after all.
Well, God, you know me. You know I listen to my Mum and Dad and that I look after my little sister even though she used up all of Mum’s Chanel lipstick on her Cabbage Patch dolls and said I told her to. Mum was really mad. It was limited edition lipstick. ‘Rare as hen’s teeth,’ my Mum said. I still don’t know what she meant by that because I looked up hens on the internet and hens is short for chickens and guess what? They have beaks not teeth. It’s one of those confusing things grown-ups say like :’I’ll tell you when you’re older’ or ‘Daddy and I are just doing yoga on the bed.’
Anyway, God, the reason I’m praying to you is because I want you to help someone. I saw a man today when Mum and me were at the shops. He was asleep in front of the pizza shop. He had a newspaper for a blanket and no shoes. When I asked my Mum what he was doing there she said he was homeless. I found out later that when you are homeless you don’t have a house to live in and probably no family to take care of you.
I know I shouldn’t be cheeky, God, but it seems you’ve made a mistake letting people be homeless. I know if you had seen this man you would have been sad about it. He had a kind face, like a grandad. I thought about my grandad being homeless and I felt my heart twist. I don’t want my grandad to be homeless. I don’t want the man in front of the pizza shop to be homeless, either.
When Mum was cooking dinner I got my stupid brother to take me back to the pizza shop. First of all, God, I’m sorry for calling my brother stupid. I apologise, I really do, but he is a complete idiot. I had to make a deal with him to get him to take me there because I’m not allowed to walk to the shops by myself. There were two parts to the deal. Number one, I had to buy him hot chips on the way home. Number Two, I had to get Suzy Walker’s phone number. How I’m going to do it, I don’t know, she’s the most popular girl in the 6th grade and she thinks I’m a dork, but I agreed. You see, God, I was desperate.
Second of all, I’m sorry for going to the shops without telling my mother but I knew she would stop me if she knew what I was going to do. I have thirty dollars from my last birthday. I was going to buy a Tamagotchi with it but when I saw the homeless man I thought I would give it to him instead. My stupid brother (oops, there I go again) said it won’t even get him a room for the night but ‘every little bit helps,’ that’s what Aunt Georgia says.
When we got to the pizza shop the man was awake. He smiled at me. His teeth were brown. I don’t think he has a toothbrush. I walked up to him and gave him the thirty dollars. My hands were shaking so much I thought I was going to drop the money. The man took the money. His eyes were shiny like Mum’s are when she sees the World Vision ads on TV. ‘That’s my life savings,’ I said. ‘But I want you to have it. I don’t want you to be homeless anymore.’
‘You are a little angel sent from God,’ said the man. His voice was soft, like he was only used to talking in whispers, but he was nice, I could tell, he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. As my stupid brother dragged me away, the man whispered: ‘Thank you, Angel.’ I felt proud, like I’d won a prize. My brother called me a dimwit.
So that’s really why I’m praying, dear God. If the man thinks I’m an angel then I have to do what angels do and help him. Please help him not to be homeless anymore, dear God, please. He is one of your children. It makes me cry a little to think of him sleeping on the ground every night with no pillow or even a teddy bear to cuddle.
I know you’re busy, dear God, but please help this man. He deserves it. I don’t want him to think I’m not really an angel.
Forever and ever Amen.
Your humble servant,
oh selma,, that was so beautiful.. i have a special affinity for the homeless having been one myself on a few occasions… and i can tell you,, no matter what he spent the money on,,, kittys homeless man will never forget her…. just priceless……
A dimwit? How rude!
I thought I was gonna cry.
I was also reminded of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine in Perth (see, I have Aussie pals too) a couple of months after the Asian tsunami incident, She said she was preparing to fly out to Thailand to help with the relief efforts. It blew my mind that she was going to do this. To take time off from work. To volunteer with her own money. In a country far away.
that is soo sad..and touching.
you are an angel.
Paisley – I am so sorry you were homeless at one stage. I have a huge affinity with homeless people because my great uncle became homeless in Scotland in the 1960s. It was a family scandal. I was only about five at the time but I hated to think of him living on the streets. No one in the family helped him except for my Aunt Josie who eventually took him in. The rest of the family shunned her as a result. The injustice of it has always stayed with me.
Chris – many people I know helped in the aftermath of the tsunami. What an awful event that was. Some of the stories were chilling.
Meleah Rebeccah – you are so kind to say so. I feel the same about you!
What a beautiful post. I always think how outrageous it is that people are homeless
Crafty Green – I don’t understand it at all. Aren’t we supposed to be a civilised society?
Oh Selma, your heart is absolutely amazing.
It’s a beautiful story and a complex issue. Some folks are literally homeless because they “want” to be, like my son was after his wife kicked him out or like your friend Donald. They get dealt an emotional blow and don’t take the steps they need to to recover or take charge of their lives again.
Others, like my departed friend Gary, are alcoholics or drug addicts and their habit, their chemicals control their lives.
Mental illness is a HUGE factor too, especially here in Maine. It’s on the streets or in an institution. Many of the “families” are just as messed up as their offspring, so they have no mental or emotional or possibly even financial recourse to help their “loved” one.
Then there are folks who are just down and out. One too many bills and no job. Discouragement and depression sets in and suddenly they are trapped – or they’re so convinced they are trapped that they can’t find they’re way out.
Because so many of them have needs far beyond just the physical, it seems to me a better solution for each of us with “stable” lives and families to find just one homeless person, maybe two and befriend them. Love them. Encourage them. Help them find a counselor, a drug rehab, a place to improve their job skills. Invite them over (and pick them up) for tea or sit out on the bench WITH them to enjoy a hotdog.
I have several friends who are, as my dear friend Special K calls them, “Mental health consumers”. I make them birthday cakes. I let them talk my ear off on the phone. In Gary’s case, I even let him carve a swan for my daughter’s wedding and took umpteen pictures of him doing so. I was at the VA hospital visiting him in the hours before he died.
Personal relationships and love can’t be given by the government. Hope can’t be given by the government. And we can’t help ALL of them. But the one or two (or 5 or 6) that God brings into our paths on a regular basis, WE can love. And even if they never change, even if they never respond, it is still worth it.
Ooops, sorry. Groovy got on the soapbox. She will climb down now because she is preaching to the choir!
Miss Britt – you’re a sweetie!
Groovy – your philosophy inspires me. If only more people could almost ‘adopt’ a homeless person it might go a long way to solving the problem. I don’t mean let them live with you because that would probably create even more problems, but befriend them and check on them regularly, talk to them, feed them. You’re right, the issue is incredibly complicated. It really is a case of one solution not working for all. But I agree that helping one or two people goes a long way towards addressing the problem. BTW, I love it when you get on your soapbox. I just sit back and enjoy!
this was a beautiful post, Selma.
Many years ago, when Lord of the Manor and I were just dating, we joined a group who prepared sandwiches, then piled into a really ratty old van that belonged to a recovering addict/pastor/dragon slayer who called himself Preacher Jim. Twice a week Preacher Jim and his little band of elves went to some of the seedier areas of downtown Seattle in the middle of the night and handed out sandwiches, blankets, shoes, clothes, and time to the lost ones.
Young parents with small children…we could only give out one sandwich to each person, so the mother and father would eat only half, then save the rest for the kids to eat the next day. Money was so tight for that independant group of do-gooders, that we could only go out a couple times a week. Addicts so shakey they could barely hang on to their food, teenagers living in condemned buildings because their family had either given up on them or had fallen apart and could no longer harbor them in safety, the list goes on. But the food did not.
One night, Preacher Jim was attacked as he was setting up the feeding site. He was out by himself, which went against his own rules of safety. The police couldn’t find many witnesses, most of them ran in fear and went deep into hiding. The van was trashed, the food wasted, clothes soiled with feces…and blood. Lots of blood.
Every so often, I’ll be in downtown and think I catch a glimpse of Preacher Jim, even though I know it can’t be him. The dead don’t hand out food.
Karen, I am so sorry to hear about Preacher Jim. Those stories happen far too often for my liking. You’d think that people doing such wonderfully charitable acts would somehow be protected from such senseless violence, but they’re not. It’s so upsetting.
Ms. Karen a chilling and sad tale. Selma, once again…giving us fodder to think and discuss.
Really really excellent post Selma. Having myself lived on the street for close to a year when I was 16 I can definitely relate. And 30 ish years ago wasn’t as bad as it is today.
Laurie – good to see you. Hope all is well.
JD – thanks so much for stopping by. I am delighted! I feel for you living on the streets when you were 16, it can’t have been easy. There is a very contemplative quality to your work, which immediately struck me, now I know that it has come from your experiences. Good to hear from you!