Monday, May 27, 2013

Children, homelessness and paying it forward

It all started with a huge collection of shoes coming in from the Sunshine Coast.  A lady named Sarah has a daughter who has done a shoe collection at the primary school she is attending. The number of shoes she got together for donation was enormous, and the Polite Team were lucky enough to be the recipients of those donated shoes to give to the homeless. Very humbling. And what a great way to raise your children: making them aware of those less fortunate and of their own blessings, and teaching them to give. We see those beautiful families volunteer at our BBQs as well, helping people to find what they are looking for, showing them where to go for this and that, just having conversations, serving food, and doing a great job putting smiles on our guests’ faces. Really, the generosity of people is heart-warming – just what we need as we move towards winter. There really is a lot of good still happening in the world. This weekend the shoes from the Sunshine Coast were delivered: bag after bag of men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. Just wonderful. Thank you, Shoes for Planet Earth, for putting this lady, Sarah, into contact with us! Sarah and daughter, thank you very much for your donations, brought together by the school community at the Sunshine Coast. Many people will be so happy with the shoes that will become theirs at our next BBQ event!

The shoes really got me thinking. We have always received way more adult-sized shoes than kids’ shoes, which is perhaps because people find it hard to imagine that children would go homeless. But they do. Families with children are homeless, children on their own are homeless. What chances do they have? Research shows that a lot of homeless children – being homeless in their formative years – have grown or will grow to become accustomed to homelessness and to finding homelessness their way of life, or the only life they are familiar with. They, in turn, will often grow homeless families. 

At the very first BBQ I helped organize I spoke with a man, probably in his forties, who told me he had been homeless and on his own from the age of 9. I listened to his life story and he burst into tears because nobody had listened to him before. He felt directionless, had no idea where to go or what to do. He had no one because he steered clear from the friends he used to have as they were no good. He had no contact with his family. We didn’t introduce ourselves; he had started to talk and names seemed irrelevant. We met as two human beings and that was all that mattered. At the end of the afternoon he came back to me, and told me he had made a decision: he would go to Melbourne. I wished him well and watched him walk off: a little more spring in his step.  I had never met him before nor have I seen him after; I hope he is well, that he got to Melbourne safely or that he is safe wherever he is, and in good spirits.

But back to homeless youth. The shoes that we received this weekend made me ponder on homeless children. They are a lot less visible than homeless adults. Many of them move from address to address or from this friend to that friend, they hang out in groups and they are not as identifiable as grownups. According to Homelessness Australia, 12 per cent of homeless people, or 12,133 of them Australia-wide, is under the age of 12, and 21 per cent or 21,940 homeless people are between 12 and 18 years of age.  60 per cent of children who sought help from homeless services have run from domestic-violence households, so the real number of children running from domestic violence is probably higher. They either witnessed violence at home or were primary victims of it, and hoped that life on the streets was safer than life at home. What an awful conclusion to come to for those kids. These staggering and dark numbers were just last year’s. This year's numbers are not out yet.

Our kids are our future, and their future starts where they live – whether that is in a house, in an apartment or on the streets. Childhood and adolescence are crucial in personality formation, so it is important to get it right – or as good as possible – from the start. Safety and security are a first priority, but for children on the street the levels of safety and security are minimal. On the streets those kids are much more in danger of being victims of crime than kids who are not homeless, and much more in danger of being involved in it.  Children do not deserve violence or abuse of any kind in their lives. Nobody does…

We may not be able to solve all of the world’s problems or to improve policies on homelessness, but awareness is the first step. We all have something positive to give to others. We cannot know how much our smile, words, gestures or simple kindness can touch someone’s heart, can turn a life around, can restore faith in the goodness of people, can plant a seed for a better life down the track. Even if it’s not much that we can give to others, it’s something so let’s give it. It costs nothing and it is infectious. Pay it forward!

Written by Bernie the Polite Girl from The Polite Team

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