Oi! Dev, what are you doing tonight? Wanna have a drink?
Can’t. I’m sleeping in my car. It’s Women’s Car Sleepout night.
To raise awareness of the massive and growing amount of homeless women and children and the lack of safe housing and services for them.
What homeless women? I don’t see any. The odd bag lady and “got any spare change junkie” but hardly ever.
That’s why we need to raise awareness. Women and children are the largest proportion homeless people. There are over 100,000 homeless in Australia every night and over 50,000 are women and children. And they’re largely invisible. The crazy, drunk or our of control stereotype of a homeless woman, makes us feel better about ourselves because we think “that can never be me”. It’s terrifying, but many of us are only a couple of pay packets away from homelessness.
Invisible? Why are they invisible?
NOT only does it take a village to raise a child, I’ve come to the conclusion that it also takes a village to raise an adult. We never stop growing up. We’re never finished. We’re all works in progress just trying to do our best and not always succeeding. We’re human. And that’s what humans do. Stuff up. And try again.
Just when you think you’ve got being an adult sorted, along comes big, fat, messy life and throws you a red herring, a poison chalice, a blessing in disguise or a total catastrophe just to keep you on your toes. Or on your knees. Or flat on your back and out for the rest of the season with a groin injury.
No matter how much we delude ourselves, life is never going to be a linear swim from pier to pub. We’re all just paddling, hoping the next island gets us somewhere closer. To where? We don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going. We just think we do. The only other options are treading water. Or sinking.
You can have your goals, your five-year plans and your illusion of security, but you can’t count on them. It gives you a target to run to but don’t be surprised if you find yourself detoured, disqualified or running past the finish line to find yourself off the map. In his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, Gordon Livingston says: “Though a straight line seems to be the shortest distance between two points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the detours that define us.” Ring a bell?
A few weeks back I wrote about everyday heroes. People suffering and battling loss, grief, hurt, pain, depression and addiction. I wrote about my huge admiration for these heroes who, despite everything, and with nothing but the smallest glimmer of hope, just keep going.
I received a big response to the piece both from people suffering and from others grateful to be reminded that there are people around us engulfed by pain. Some people we’re aware of, but others keep their pain private and hold it close to their broken hearts. People we work with, family we live with and strangers who sit next to us on the tram, serve us our coffee or write the words we read in the paper.
It happens to all of us, at times. We go to a dark place on a journey alone. Walking blindfolded through a maze, not knowing the way out, just fumbling through. Hoping that with each step, each turn and each dead end that we will find ourselves in a better place, a happier place.
As much as we would like to, we cannot go with the people we love on these journeys. But we can help. And the mere act of helping can touch another human being’s spirit. We are not just bones, skin, hair and blood. Most of who we are is not visible to the eye. Our thoughts. Our spirit. Our soul.
When my mother’s house burnt down, she said that it wasn’t the people who did the wrong things that upset her, it was the people who did nothing. Which taught me that when you don’t know what to do, do anything. Be assertive in your caring. But don’t stay long. And don’t expect anything. Chances are if you say to someone, “call me if you need anything”, they won’t. So just do something. Anything.
Cook them a meal and tell them to keep the container. Call them. And if you leave a message, let them know they don’t need to call back. Lend them your favourite movie and leave a stamped, self-addressed envelope so they can send it back to you. Take them to the library. Buy them some flowers. Walk their dog. Take them a pie for lunch. Organise a massage for them. Or buy them a pair of red socks. If they are stuck in bed, buy them a new set of sheets and change them if they’ll let you. Do their washing. Take their kids to the park and bring them back fed and tired at bedtime. And when in doubt, make soup.
Just let them know you’re there. Even if they’re not. You’ll be doing far more for them than you’ll ever know, and far more for yourself than you’d think possible. Be there holding the lamp and you may be the light at the end of someone’s long dark tunnel.
We’re all in this together. One moment you’re holding the lamp, the next you’ll find someone’s holding it for you. We’ll all have good times, bad times, happy times, sad times and times that we won’t remember. That is certain. The only thing we don’t know is what order they’ll come in.
Tomorrow night I will be sleeping in a car for the again for Women’s Car Sleepout.
Check out the column I wrote last year for THE DRUM.
The bad news? I slept in my car on Wednesday night. The good news is because I’d planned to, I’d had the car cleaned for the first time since 1996. When I picked the kids up from school they thought I’d bought a new car.
I slept in my car alongside dozens of others, by choice, in an event organised by WISHIN (Women’s Information, Support and Housing In The North) to raise awareness about the escalating rise in homeless women and the shameful lack of resources. Particularly for older single women with no history of mental illness or addiction. Women who have worked hard all their lives, often raised children and owned homes. Relationship breakdown plus shortage of affordable safe housing plus financial crisis and homelessness can be one rent payment away from sleeping rough. These women do not feel safe in much of the traditional emergency accommodation nor do they fit with the homeless due to mental illness or substance abuse. So many stay with friends or sleep in their car. Some with their children. In Australia. None of them ever expected to be homeless. These homeless women in the large part are invisible.
Homeless people are homeless for different reasons and have different needs and vulnerabilities. The current Government has put a huge injection of funds into homelessness. But it’s catch up money. And only a small portion of it. The Government needs to commit to ongoing funding so the people can do what they do and not have to spend all their time chasing money.
We gathered together people from welfare groups and compassionate others in the hall of an inner-city Melbourne church and spent the night eating pizza, drinking tea from paper cups and singing. We all wore hoodies that read EVERY WOMAN NEEDS A SAFE HOME EVERY NIGHT. The local MP Kelvin Thompson rocked up. He understood that? Homelessness arises from a cycle of disadvantage. There was a bit of a talkfest and eventually we all bedded down in our cars or the hall.
I tweeted the night. Call it micro-reporting. With the hashtag #wishinacar. Thousands of people on Twitter followed the night. Because if you don’t know what to do, do anything. And if you want to do something advocate, participate or donate.
It’s not rocket science. All it takes is homes to end homelessness.