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

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Guinness World Record BBQ

I was asked advice about helping homeless and things I do. I thought “I’d kill two birds with one stone” and write a blog post and just say a few things I do.

Firstly every person is different and I adjust to what they say more than anything. I do my ‘Pie & Coke’ which is me going up to someone and just asking if they would like to join me in having something to eat and drink. The idea is to buy the food and just sit and listen. I have found most people like to talk about themselves and homeless are no different. But listening to them I get an understanding of where there coming from.

You see people are homeless because of different reasons and only a fool would think they know the reason before talking to the person. The thing I learnt quickly was that sometimes there can be a quick fix to help people and some is a long road. In a lot of cases it’s mental health, something that’s happened to them before they became homeless or just hardship that got on top of them. All of which is very important to address before even thinking of helping that person get off the streets.

But I think one of the most important things is I don’t ever sit above them, if their sitting on the grass then so am I. I talk to whoever it is as an equal and a mate. I try to understand what they have/are going through and I always offer (only) to help by contacting or giving the correct services I think would help them. Now I’d like to say this is very successful, sure a lot of people open up and I’m able to help them in a huge way, but I can say there’s heaps of homeless people I’ve not even being able to get their names. But the way I see it I manage to give them a hot meal and drink and that in itself is worthwhile.

I think that’s why I like walking around and offering to buy someone a meal and just chat. I’m just a guy trying to be a friend/mate, I don’t ask them to come to an office which some wouldn’t, I talk to them in their environment where they feel more comfortable.

Now I’m not a counsellor by any means and I’m sure they would handle things much better than anything I’d do or say. But I do the best I can, because I was homeless and I feel I do have an understanding of what they are going through. Besides I do have a great success rate and that’s better than doing nothing.

So in fact if I was to offer advice in helping ‘Homeless People’ then I would say “take the word homeless away and your left with just PEOPLE”.  I really think some people forget that they are really just dealing with people going through hard times and in a lot of cases that’s all. Whether it’s someone with Mental health, Bad past or even hardship they are people.

Now if I really wanted to get into details I’m sure I could write a book and better yet a series of books. But in my book the biggest thing to remember is that some people slide off the tracks a bit and it’s understanding why first is the biggest step.

One thing I have learnt is that if you push for helping when they’re not ready then you may get burnt and waste resources.

Now on a different note, lately I have been doing my BBQ’s every 2 months and helping a lot of homeless and people in need at one time. But because of me having Leukaemia and recent events with me having a Heart attack and a Stroke in the last 10 months I am trying to put in place a ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for the biggest BBQ helping homeless and people in need. You see I want to show how much help is needed because of the numbers of people coming. So the next BBQ is planned to be in November. I know it means not helping people with BBQ’s every 2 months but I really feel doing this will help many more in the future if it gets the awareness of numbers out.

I’m sure there’s a lot of people will want to come on board and help with this one and to be honest I’ll need all the help I can get. Haha So please email or call me.

I’d like to thank you for reading my blog and I hope you have a great day.

Grant the Polite Guy

0412 190 011