Saturday, February 9, 2013

Homelessness and the law

Everyone knows that the homeless are doing it tough. But perhaps not everybody thinks about how they are doing it tough. I thought I’d write today about something that I have only recently learned myself, and that had my mind boggling. It has to do with laws and rights, with being homeless, and with getting fines because of being homeless.

Talking to homeless people, I heard stories about them raking up fine after fine for things I could not even imagine. I found that quite horrific, and I went to research these things a bit. I must say I found it hard to believe what I heard people say about why they got fines. I guess I did not really want to believe how heartless or callous society or the legal system is in some areas, but at the same time I knew it must be true. Then doing some reading and finding out for real, in black and white, that the people I spoke to had it right was quite painful. Homeless people by law (yes, how else) can be fined for vagrancy, loitering, begging, sleeping in public spaces or camping. As the University of New South Wales stated, “the law has typically added to the disadvantage of people experiencing homelessness” .

As a matter of fairness, I should add that there are also laws that can be used to the advantage of homeless people and that have been mentioned in the same article, such as anti-discrimination laws (Equality Rights), renting, boarding house and accommodation regulations (Accommodation Rights), and social security laws (Standard of Living Rights).

However, because of the position they’re in and because of the way they are often treated by others, many homeless people do not have the sense of self-worth and trust in their fellow man to make the law work for them. They often do not know that there are actually laws they can call upon, and finding legal advice often is a daunting process for them. Therefore, as great as those legal rights of Equality, Accommodation and Standard of Living are, and however applicable to homeless people, they will not often feel they are in a position to make use of them or to get legal help, or they are not familiar with their legal rights.

I hear that Big Issue vendors get spat in the face about once a week on average. Add that to the low income they earn by standing outside for hours on end trying to sell their magazines to hurried passers-by (which I experienced myself a few months ago), and you can grasp where those feelings of low self-worth and lack of trust come from. They often do not feel that they will be believed, listened to or taken seriously if they would make an official complaint even if their issue is something that really should be addressed.

Homeless people often get fines for the above-mentioned things, such as vagrancy, loitering, begging and sleeping in public spaces, but where else but in public spaces can you sleep when you are homeless and the shelters are overloaded already? And when you don’t have a home or a job to go to, how can you not loiter? For many homeless people the fines and enforcement fees pile up. They can amount to thousands of dollars and increase the longer they remain unpaid, and there is no way they can pay them. For non-payment of fines, people’s drivers licences get suspended, which in many cases makes it harder to find work and get on their feet. How can society help more? Just a question…  

For anyone interested in the issue, please click on this link:  It is published by the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service and dates from 2006 (so not the newest and perhaps also not the latest) and is based on New South Wales.

For anyone interested in legal help for homeless people, here is the link for the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service: . They are an excellent law organization specialized in helping homeless people or people at risk of homelessness. I am proud to say this organization will have representatives at our BBQ of 17 February.


Just a little something about the guy I wrote about, who was finding his way back up again after a setback. He is still going strong, still sells the Big Issue, and is hoping to make the day very special when his little boy turns a year older later this month, not too far away from his own birthday. The last time I spoke to him, a couple of days ago, he was in good spirits, and really looking forward to the birthdays. I hope they will be very special days for him and his little boy…


On a different note: last time I tried to encourage you to vote for Grant to become the Volunteer of the Year 2012 with Heritage Bank. It does not look like Grant is going to win, so could I please ask you to vote for the wonderful KAREN CROKE? She founded and heads Knitting for Brisbane’s Needy, a terrific group of dedicated people who help the same people we help by knitting all things knittable and donating them at our BBQ, at many other events and in many other ways. If Grant is not going to win, Karen has our wholehearted votes. Yours too? Karen is currently in second place. With your votes SHE CAN WIN THIS!!!Here is the link: 

Have a great day and be safe. Talk to you next time!

Written by Bernie the Polite Girl from The Polite Team 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bruce: an Inspiration to Us All

Walking in the city, I saw Bruce. Bruce sat in his usual area, on the footpath but out of the way of passers-by, with all his possessions next to him: his sleeping bag and a couple of small bags with his clothes. I went to sit next to him and we had a chat. I sat on the ground, just like him, but he offered his bag of clothes for me to sit on because he figured it would be more comfortable. I declined and said I was perfectly fine sitting on the ground.

Now Bruce is someone who would never harm a fly. He would give, and has regularly given, his last dollar to a charity, a hospital or a church. He feels he has everything he needs because he has his clothes, his sleeping bag and most meals, what more could he possibly want. He says there are so many people in greater need than him who would be helped by his funding of these charities, hospitals or the church. A man with very modest requirements for himself but with an observant eye for what is lacking in society: care for people who are doing it tough.

Bruce told me Grant had given him some money a little while ago when he was broke, and he wanted to do something in return. Like Grant, he wanted to do something for someone else, and he asked me to take his sleeping bag and give it to a homeless person or bring it to our next BBQ for the Homeless and Others in Need. He had only bought it recently, and showed me the receipt to show me that he honestly paid for it (haha, you gotta love Bruce!). He said he had slept in it so perhaps I should check it out and see what I think. He said it was too warm for him to sleep in, there was no need for him to have a sleeping bag. I said that the colder months would be coming soon, he would need his sleeping bag, but he insisted I take it and give it to someone else.

I suggested Bruce think about it. I said both Grant and I were in the city regularly, and if he still wanted to donate his sleeping bag in two days time, we would take it then. But Bruce was adamant I take it now. I offered him some money for it, but he did not want any money. He just wanted to do something for someone else because Grant had done something for him.

I asked how he was going to sleep without his sleeping bag, and he replied “Oh, I’ll be alright. I’ll sleep on a piece of cardboard or something”. Accepting a homeless man’s sleeping bag to give to someone else was something I struggled with, but then, who am I to deny him to help someone else… I could see it was his wholehearted desire and decision to give it away, and who am I not to respect that. I still protested, saying I thought he should keep his sleeping bag, but he did not want to hear it, and so I ended up finding myself taking it to give to someone else who needed it more than Bruce.

I asked him where he was going to sleep tonight, and he said he wasn’t sure, perhaps he would just sleep where he was. I asked if it was an OK place to sleep, and his face changed from happy and involved to drawn and worried. I said “It’s not an OK place to sleep?”, and he shook his head. I checked if he knew a better, safer place, and again he shook his head. We didn’t go into things too much, but we concluded things were better during the day. A little while later I left to get on with my day, walking away from Bruce with his sleeping bag in my hand to find it a new owner. And Bruce went on with his day, too, right where he was sitting: a man with no home who had just given away his own sleeping bag so that someone else could be helped. People who have the least often are the most generous…


Just a brief aside about our BBQ. Our BBQ for the Homeless, Flood Victims and People in Need is coming up on Sunday 17 February. Donations of clothes, shoes, toiletries, toys, small household goods etc and/or soft drinks can be dropped off to The Polite Team at Post Office Square, Brisbane, on Friday 15 February between 7AM and 2PM. If you have larger things to donate, such as furniture, please contact Grant on 0412 190 011.


Something completely different now: the Polite Team has been very involved in fund raising for several causes. Firstly, we have joined forces with others as Team Polite People to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation by participating in the World’s Greatest Shave, so that others may be helped better. Yes, in March both Grant and I as well as Denise and Dave will shave back to a Number One. I include the link to our Team page here so you can tax-deductibly donate if you wish – we hope you will! We hope to raise a lot of dollars for the Leukaemia Foundation and that we will not be walking around with no hair for nothing! We do need donations, so please support us if you can:

Secondly, Grant has been nominated to be Heritage Bank’s Volunteer of the Year for 2012. 2012 was another year in which Grant tirelessly helped the homeless and others in need, both on a large scale with his BBQs and on a one-on-one basis, as well as raised awareness through this blog and through talking with people. A Big Issue vendor, Grant selflessly spends much of his money on helping others, and his enthusiasm gets many people inspired and on board. Winning the competition would give him $1,000 towards the coffee cart project he is ready to start, and it would give Grant’s charity organization Signal Flare a very welcome injection of $10,000 towards the BBQs and other forms of large-scale help for the homeless and others in need. All you have to do to vote for Grant is click! If you would like to give him your vote – and he needs a lot of votes to beat the current Number One – here is the link:
First like the page, then click on “Vote Now”, go to R for Grant Richards, scroll down to Grant’s nomination and vote. Lastly, don’t forget to reply to the confirmation email or your vote won’t count. Please note: the competition closes on Friday 15 February.

That’s about it for me now. Please all take care and be safe, and watch this space for more updates.

Written by Bernie the Polite Girl from the Polite Team