Sleeping Rough

I went to sleep thinking of homelessness, and I woke after having one of those dreams which was startling in its clarity. It was part memory, part fantasy, and it was about sleeping rough. 

Most people know that I was deported to Africa by my parents (lol) for being a naughty teenager. Some might not know that I compulsively ran away before that happened - I packed my bags and left, over and over again. Some of that experience involved sleeping on the streets, which fills me with horror now to think about how unsafe it would have been for a teenaged kid.

Except it wasn't. There was a real community amongst the homelessness community and most people watched out for we young folk. There was Dan the Hotdog Man, who fed us at any time (not just at the end of the day or night, when we would tour the city's bain maries.). The places to sleep were all collective places - I don't remember now the names of the other children, but I do remember one had a job selling a newspaper on the street corner in the city very very early. We would sometimes help him pick them up, he was very proud of his job, that kid.

I wonder what has changed. There were two places in the city where you could get a shower, wash your clothes. People's eyes constantly drifted downwards, scrounging for coins or butts. We were never hungry, but often cold. The Narrows Bridge was warm underneath, but filled with scary old drunks, and we didn't go there.

Like me, there were other kids who did not come from intergenerational disadvantage. They were running from abuse or rules or somewhere that was unsafe for them to be in. There are so many myths about homelessness and when I hear people making judgmental comments, it makes me quietly wild. I think it was a good experience for me, and led to the ability to talk to more interesting people, to view disadvantage in a different light, to not be bound by stereotypes.

A friend who became homeless recently told me that he was given a tour by another homeless man of where to charge his mobile phone, the safest place to sleep. It reminded me of those days and that community of people. I wonder what would happen if people actually took the time to sit down beside a member of that community to talk to them and understand their story, rather than walking past, eyes fixed steadfastedly ahead, unless they were moved by a sudden moment of charity to drop a few coins or buy a coffee or toastie for that person. Here's to the folk I know like Jennifer Kaeshagen, who routinely collects PET bottles and refills them with water, freezes them, leaves them beside sleeping homeless folk - Suresh Rajan, who buys people breakfast and, as a fellow curious person, talks to people. One of my kids, who has worked in a city soup kitchen for some years now.

The difference to people's lives isn't charity. It's human connection. What, you didn't know that? It's what all of it is about, isn't it?


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