CathBlog - Close to homelessness

BY LOUISE McKEOGH

Since the beginning of this year, I have noticed every day as I arrive at work, a homeless person who sleeps at night on the steps under the shelter of our office entrance.

Each morning he packs up his things into several large plastic stripped bags and moves around the corner, spending his day on the seat outside McDonalds to get some sunshine, especially in the cooler months. I have presumed he has a mental illness and chooses to be homeless. 

Several mornings, he has left his blankets and pillows along the steps in a pile as if he is still sleeping underneath them. On these occasions, I have checked that he is still OK and looked to see if he is around the corner on his usual seat.

Recently, I did not see him for a while, and then yesterday he was back, sitting in his seat getting some sun and watching the people as they go about their morning business, getting off to work and school. 

As I was driving to work yesterday, I was thinking about this person and wondering what had happened to him and who cares for him. 

The words to the Ralph McTell song Streets of London came to mind.

Have you seen the old man? 
In the closed down market 
Kicking up the paper
With his worn out shoes
In his eyes you see no pride 
Hands held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news

So how can you tell me you’re lonely?
And say for you that the sun doesn’t shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Sydney
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

Last week I was moving around for several meetings, including being interstate for several evenings, I was glad that each night’s accommodation had worked out and I had a safe and comfortable place to sleep. 

One of the meetings was the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council meeting. There was an input from a person with vast experience working with the homeless and people with mental illness. 

Her statement that we are all only two weeks away from homelessness caused me to feel quiet uncomfortable and sent goose bumps and a shiver down my spine. It’s something I don’t think about much as I take for granted my circumstances. 

As also happens this week, I have the opportunity to visit the House of Welcome, a service for Asylum Seekers and Refugees. Their mission is to be a place of welcome, trust and friendship helping people transition to life in Australia. 

I have been keen to visit after recently hearing the story of a Sudanese worker telling of his experience. In the midst of city traffic, he saw a lady standing in the middle of the road about to be collected by moving traffic. He whisked her to safety onto the side of the road and seeing that she was obviously quiet distressed enquired as to what was wrong. 

She was also a refugee from Sudan, a single mother of seven children who had just received a letter from her land lord requiring them to leave by 6.00 pm that night. 

Off course, the lady had no idea who to turn to for help and what her rights were in this situation. She was first and foremost distressed and anxious for her wellbeing and that of her family – for safety security and shelter that night. 

My colleague helped the family as best he could; eventually police had to be called so that they could access the house to gather their few belongings. 

As my colleague was telling this story, I was feeling quite frustrated, as I knew of church organisations that had empty buildings that could have been used for emergency accommodation. I can say it’s too complex – so many occupational health and safety issues – and connecting the groups is difficult and time consuming.

It is a challenging and interesting place to be between Homeless Person’s Week and Refugee and Migrant Sunday. I certainly need to sit with these stories and know that amidst all this, with the journey of time, there can be a profoundly challenging Gospel call.   

For the moment, I can say that being somewhere between these two weeks, I give thanks for my colleagues who are ministering in situations that are extremely challenging, and each night I say a short prayer of thanks for my home and know that there for the grace of God go I. 

Sr Louise McKeogh FMA is Caritas and Social Justice Office Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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