I’m sitting in my lounge, watching the southerly front beating down and the waves on the bay. I’m really incredibly lucky to be inside in this weather. And I know it.
I spent a little under half my life in Africa, and I’ve travelled to places where you’re told not to look the beggars and the homeless in the eyes – “it just encourages them”. Well, you don’t end up living on the street on a whim. You go there when the system fails you. When there is no other choice or option. As somebody who is preparing herself to go back to WINZ and start the rigmarole of going back on the jobseeker’s benefit, I can tell you the system sucks. (I have had to do this once before it was godawful. In fact, it was during the last election cycle. There’s a trend here…). The system here does not help those who sink through the cracks. It’s a vicious cycle there, things they require in order to get the support aren’t available, and it becomes a bitter descent into despair.
The last time I was struggling to find work (during the election freeze in Wellington), there were days when I seriously did think I would end up somewhere like those we walk by on the streets. I’m lucky that I have a support crew that can help me, and the means to keep the black dog at bay, but it could have just as easily gone the other way. A toss of the coin, a different path.
Listening to the talks about who is going to form government, and having working in government departments – I know how divorced the people who pass the policies are. They’re not the ones who work on the front lines, or in the volunteer organisations, or have to make sacrifices in order for others they care for to be warm, and dry (if not fed). It’s all numbers and abstract concept at that level. And it shouldn’t be.
The Wellington Night Shelter and Salvation Army are hosting a 14 Hours Homeless event this Friday. And I’m going to be one of those roughing it overnight in support of these fine charities who are doing what they can to make a difference for those who are caught in the cracks. Who see them, and work with them, and for all of us, remind them that there are people out there who care and give a damn about them.
I’m doing it to know how it feels. Even though it is for one night, in a relatively safe environment – I’m doing it to understand. And to give something back – even if it is through awareness, and donations to help them set up packs for those lucky enough to get more permanent accommodation, or another voice to be heard. I’ll write about it more next week after I’ve done it.
But all I ask is that you, dear reader, help me help the Night Shelter, and the people they work with. Every little bit counts. The equivalent of a coke, or coffee, or takeaway for you makes a huge difference for them. It means a hot shower, clean sheets, a meal, support when trying to make it back into the workforce… It means a world of difference, while we wait for the government to do something to ease this, let’s do something ourselves.
See you on the other side.