Tonight I hung out in the city. It was a really warm evening, the perfect night for a stroll, taking in the sights and sounds of Melbourne’s CBD at Christmas.
I met lots of new people tonight. They were just like me – they smiled and they laughed, they had stories, they enjoyed a chat as much as I do. The only difference – at the end of the night, I caught the train home to a cool shower and a warm bed. They, on the other hand, are still out there somewhere, on the streets, setting up camp for the night.
There are homeless people in every city. We see them but most of the time we walk past them, diverting our gaze and deflecting their requests for a dollar. I’ve done it myself.
Tonight however, I sat on the ground with them – with me, was my friend Alex, the founder of One Road Home and a small bunch of other volunteers. We were all there for the same reason: to bring Christmas to the streets.
One Road Home generally provides hygiene packs to Melbourne’s homeless but tonight, eight sleeps out from Christmas, we were delivering hand-picked and hand-packed Christmas gifts and goodies. The jocks and socks a necessity perhaps, but the hand lotion, cap and wrist-watch more or less a little luxury that our friends on the streets often miss out on.
I’ll be honest, I was a little bit nervous before heading out for street outreach tonight. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I’ve been afraid of the homeless. I was afraid for no reason in particular, but I put it down to fear of the unknown and fear of the other.
The unfamiliar can be scary, but if tonight’s experience has taught me anything, it’s that although their situation may feel unfamiliar to us, the homeless are really no different to you and I.
I saw it in the way that Travis expressed his gratitude for our Christmas gifts – just the way I’d express my thanks for a present. I saw it in the way Lilly proudly showed us a photo of her gorgeous daughters, as any mother would. And I most definitely saw it in the way that Jeff, a talented artist, dug through his bag to find a pen for Alex to write down her business name. She wants him to design a logo for her and he searched for that pen with the fervour and professionalism of a graphic designer, about to jot down notes about a new client.
The ‘other’ only exists in our perception of people and that needs to change. Our mission was more than just giving out Christmas presents. It was to remind our friends on the street that they are valued, they are worthy and they are human. It was to remind them that, at a time of year when consumers are spending thousands of dollars around them, someone is thinking of them.
A person’s situation doesn’t make them any less of a human being and not only do the homeless need a helping hand, they deserve to be treated with dignity. I’ve realised what a difference one can make with a friendly smile, a kind word or a nice gesture. Although we may not be able to provide a solution for their circumstances, it costs absolutely nothing to treat a fellow human being with the respect they deserve.
Tonight, I am going to bed thinking of the people I met on the streets.
Bill, Travis, Lilly, Jeff and so many others. They were children once, like you and I, most likely being tucked into bed by their parents, dreaming of the presents under the Christmas tree. Tonight they are sleeping on the streets.
It was a good feeling, giving out Christmas gifts to the homeless, but I can honestly say that tonight, they gave me so much more.
Find out more about One Road Home here