36.8 % of homelessness in Australia (as documented by Homelessness Australia with data from the AIHW Specialist homelessness services data collection 2012-13) is caused by domestic and family violence. This is the most common cause.
“If women and children were being abused and murdered by strangers at the rate at which they’re being abused and murdered by men in their family, there’d be taskforce, there’d be funding, there’d be political will”
The Lookout is a great place to go, for more info, help and support with this issue.
Lets talk about this issue and bring some light into this dark hidden place in Australian family life.
Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho was homeless in São Paulo, Brazil, for nearly 35 years, and became locally known for sitting in the same spot and writing every day. In April 2011, he was befriended by a young woman named Shalla Monteiro. Impressed by his poetry and wanting to help him with his dream of publishing a book, she created a Facebook Page to feature Raimundo’s writing. Neither could have expected what happened next.
It’s hard to know how to respond when you see a homeless person. Do you ignore them and just keep walking (they probably aren’t really homeless in the first place and just trying to scam you)? Do you buy them some food, cause you don’t want them to buy drugs or alcohol? Do you give them money? Do you stop and chat?
I don’t think there is ever really a clear cut answer as to how to respond. People will disagree as to what the right thing to do is. At The Intersection we try and challenge people to think about it from a different point of view. Do we really know what it is like to be homeless and what you might need if you are homeless? Would it matter if we gave them money and they went and bought drugs or alcohol? What do we buy with our money? Does anyone tell us how we are to spend our money? What would it mean if we acknowledged the homeless person? If we smiled at them? Talked to them about their day?
Roman Krznaric (a cultural thinker and writer on the art of living. A founding faculty member of The School of Life in London, who advises organisations including Oxfam and the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change), believes that empathy and empathic thinking can create social change. He says that empathy is more than just sympathy. It is the ability to powerfully imagine what it would be like to be in the shoes of another. In a recent blog post he challenges us to empathise with the telesales caller. He suggests that by merely imagining what the job might be like for them (made easier for him as he once was a telesales caller himself) and engaging in conversation with them will powerful revolutionise the world.
“So while part of me wants to immediately press the red button and end the call, I do my best to focus on the caller and treat them with decency. In an effort to make a personal connection, I sometimes find out their name and where they are phoning from, which can lead to surprising – if usually short – conversations about their lives, and my own. I nearly always tell them that I know what their job is like, because I’ve done it too, and I wish them well with the rest of their calls. Imagining myself into their lives and showing a little respect is the least I can do to bridge our faceless digital divide.
Such brief encounters with strangers may, at first glance, seem trivial affairs. But I believe they are the beginnings of a revolution that can weave the world together into an invisible tapestry of human connection.”
What would it mean if were to apply this same thinking and acting when we see a homeless person? Maybe next time you think just acknowledging or smiling at a homeless person is pointless act, you might think twice.
It is important to understand what empathy is and is not. If you see a homeless person living under a bridge you may feel sorry for him and give him some money as you pass by. That is pity or sympathy, not empathy. If, on the other hand, you make an effort to look at the world through his eyes, to consider what life is really like for him, and perhaps have a conversation that transforms him from a faceless stranger into a unique individual, then you are empathising.
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp Food expenditure per week: 685 CFA Francs ($1.23) Image copyright Peter Menzel, menzelphoto.com
In 2013 a book, called Hungry Planet, (by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio) was published exploring how families eat around the world. Families have been photographed in front of their weekly food and how much they spend each week has been recorded. It provides a stunning visual illustration about the divide between rich and poor, as well as the difference in diet between cultures and countries. It serves as a reminder as to how lucky we are. I wonder what a project like this would look like if done here in Australia?
Stereotypes; good, bad or indifferent? We think a lot about stereotypes at Urban Seed; wanting to breakdown the stereotypes of how we view homeless people.
The thing about stereotypes is that they are not necessarily wrong, just incomplete. You see to a certain extent stereotypes can be helpful, as they help us make sense of the world. When we see someone in a school uniform we know they go to school. When we see someone in a hard hat and steel cap boots with a fluro vest we know they are a builder. The issue becomes when we take this stereotype further and end up making a judgment or prejudice from this.
As Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says:
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
In her powerful Ted talk she warns us about the danger of a single story. When we only have a single story we end up with an incomplete picture and therefore end up judging.
What single story have we heard about homeless people? Do we need to hear another one?