This morning I caught the train into the city for a meeting. Walking from the train, I noticed a homeless person huddled against the outside of a pub. As I drew closer, I saw the sign next to her asking for spare change. In my power walk, all I managed to read was “Hi, I’m 23 and homeless…” Having worked in the city for years, I’ve walked past people on the street hundreds of times. None have affected me the way this mornings walk-by did. The thought of someone so young, living on the street and sleeping in the alcove of a pub wall haunted me for the rest of my walk. What could possibly have happened to land her in this desperate situation?
It made me reflect on what I was doing at 23. A year or so into my career, living in Sydney, young and fanciful with the world at my feet. All I was worried about was waking up in time for PT sessions, whether that guy I had a bit of a crush on had even noticed me, or where friday night drinks would be. Not dissimilar from most 23 year olds I imagine! How guilty I felt, thinking of that past me and the selfishness inherent in that single stage of life. Sure I had the occasional worry about money ( I was paying Sydney rent after all!) but that usually only resulted after one too many new pairs of shoes. Life was sweet, I had career aspirations that stretched to the moon, there was nothing standing in my way.
And so my mind pondered as I walked to my meeting. As is the case with distraction, we got straight into a full day of planning, budgeting and forecasting, and it wasn’t until I started my journey home that I thought about the girl again. I caught the tram this time ( a tad lazy, but it was dark and I was keen to get home to see the little guy before bedtime!). As I passed the same pub, I cast a glance and realised she was still there. The next 10 mins were like some other power took over my body. I back tracked to walk over to where she was. Admittedly, a small voice in my head told me not to be silly, just get home to my boys and not worry – but my legs just kept going, I was compelled to go and speak with her. I stopped just a few metres away and began to read more of her story. I got one sentence in “Hi, I’m 23 and homeless. Since my mother died from breast cancer…”
I couldn’t keep standing there so I bent down, touched her shoulder gently as her eyes were closed, and she instantly smiled and said ‘Hi’. She then started telling me all about her day, having left her spot at 9am to go in search of a shower. But the showers were too busy so she couldn’t have one. Then she tried two shelters looking for somewhere to stay tonight, but they were both full. She said she’d been to “Lentil” to have something to eat, and had just got back to her spot to get cosy in time for the cold. At this point the tears welled up in my eyes. No one deserves to live on life’s edge in that way. In the only way I could think of to help at the time, I handed her some money. Enough to buy food for a few days, and I really hope that’s what she does with it. How I’d love to have been able to magic up a hot shower and a safe, clean bed for her for tonight and every night.
When I got home to my boys, a little later than expected, I’ve never been so happy to wrap my arms around my little man. How grateful I feel right now to have not only a roof over our heads, but plenty of food in the fridge, and a safe, warm house with showers and clean sheets. Today was a shock reality check for me. I hope I have helped this girl by providing a few much-needed dollars, and not helped to feed a different problem. When I thought about how else I could help, I was reminded of a program I heard of recently, where The Big Issue is selling subscriptions which are packed and sent by women they have been able to employ off the streets. I have just taken out a subscription – as providing work and a safe environment must go a large part of the way in helping these women restart their lives. If this story resonates with you and you would like to do something to help, subscribe here and help get another woman off the street http://www.thebigissue.org.au/about/