Growing up on the outskirts of what almost qualifies as Western Sydney meant that I spent a decent amount of time in the Sydney CBD.
I don’t have a memory of my Mum telling me not to look, or of Dad shushing me when I tried to ask questions, or of Nana pulling me through a crowd to avoid them… But it must have happened. At some point I must have been told to avoid looking, to pretend not to see, to not ask questions.
Because now, at 22, I still don’t know how to react around the topic of homelessness.
Do we look at them? Should we? Or should we avert our gaze? Is our gaze invasive? Judgmental? Does it make them a spectacle? Does it mean they become an object? Make them worth nothing more than our gaze?
A recent post on The Homeless of Melbourne Facebook Page popped up in my newsfeed. A 23 year old girl who had lost everything in her attempts to help a dying mother. A girl that up until a few months ago was a lot like me. She opened up to a stranger with a camera and broke a lot of the stereotypes people associate with homelessness.
Because it wasn’t my parents who told me that there was something to be feared in homelessness. It was the media. The problem with homelessness. The homeless of Sydney. They are only ever portrayed in two ways: as needing our pity; or as cheating the system. They are identified as a group, not individuals with greatly varied circumstances. They are stripped of their humanity. We give them sympathy instead of support. They receive judgment instead of guidance. They are stepped over, rather than helped up.
And we need to find a way to give that all back.
And of course there are a number of great organisations, supported by government or donations, with employees and volunteers who help people in need. But in order for there to be a real change, we need a change in the public perception.
But I worry, how can we solve a problem when we can’t bare to meet their eye?