Conrad Liveris used to believe homelessness was a choice. He now sees it as something that impacts us all.
When we think about homelessness, it is easy to push it aside by blaming homeless people as “making bad decisions”. As 2013 comes to a close, I’ve realised that homelessness shows our acceptance of poverty and inequity.
Homelessness is beyond those who we see on the streets around our cities, it also involves those in temporary and insecure accommodation. Like many, it is easy for me to go home, cook some dinner and think this is beyond me. Unfortunately, it impacts us all and throughout our lives.
The United States Conference of Mayors cites three primary reasons for homelessness: lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment. It is important to note that many women who face homelessness are leaving violent and abusive environments, and also taking their children with them.
When I was in Boston I went to a homeless shelter, like I do in most cities I visit, to try and grapple the issue in that city. I was told that they were so busy that I wasn’t able to meet with their staff for at least two weeks—when I was going to be back home in Australia. It was shocking to think that homelessness was so prevalent in a city where I was meeting with icons of academia and business.
In Australia, homelessness costs A$5.5 million per homeless person, and research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests homelessness costs the US hundreds of thousands of dollars (a lower per-person cost due to different social-security operations).
In any terms, this issue is costing us—money, time, and resources that could be directed to other areas. Our nations are bigger than this, and we shouldn’t be subjecting anyone to this state of being.
It is easy to think that someone has “chosen” to be homeless, and to be honest it is a thought I used to hold. When I started speaking to homeless people I first asked “why are you homeless?” I now ask “what has brought you to be homeless?”–it is a small change but it removes the presumption that being homeless is a choice. Homelessness wasn’t a choice for the woman who left her abusive husband, the man who lost his job when he was living pay-cheque to pay-cheque, and it wasn’t the choice for the young gay man when his parents rejected his lifestyle—when he was kicked out while in his final year of school.
“I struggle to think beyond my next movement. I’m always thinking about where I can get food, shelter for the night and stay safe”, that was one of the more confronting experiences I heard. It was from a man who had led a similar life to me, but was kicked out of home when I was heading to university. There was no warning or time to prepare.
For so many of us, this time of year is spent indulging in ourselves, families and friends, I know I do. But it can be the small steps we make, giving five minutes of our time to those less fortunate. Having a conversation or having lunch together gives us all an insight into how lucky we really do have it.
photo: sandervds / flickr