Let these dreamers sleep. With cracked fingernails and grime to coat their inner ear. Let these dreamers sleep and fish for hope on shores far from here.
I met Lauren a few years back when the two of us were participants in Australian Theatre for Young People’s National Studio (read about my experience of National Studio here). Lauren is a theatre maker and writer with a really wicked sense of humour. Our theme at National Studio was ‘death and dying’ and Lauren’s monologue was one of my favourites in its fun and quirky interpretation of the theme.
Lauren has provided this beautiful photo for me to respond to as part of #writeme30. Her words describing the photo, “Homeless and asleep in Tokyo. I took it on a school trip when I was seventeen and still able to be shocked by a world with concepts like homelessness”
The Response – Green Sleep Dreams:
These green sleepers dreams, dream their way into my bent elbows. I wait for morning. Behind windows fogged by my fingertips and fears.
The car I sleep in is blue. It is my car. My XF Ford Falcon and though I can drive it, I do not have a license. I do not know the rules about sleeping in your car. Can I get in trouble for this? I am parked only two blocks away from the house I am meant to be sleeping in. I am parked in front of a chicken shop and my hair smells like oil and burnt deep fried food. I am five months pregnant. I am 17. I am too proud to ask for help. Too proud to admit that I am not safe. Too proud to admit I don’t know what to do. Too proud. Too scared. Too small. Too silent. Too invisible. I am what I have made of myself.
I go back to that red brick house the next night. With its yard full of dry yellow grass. Its slightly leaning grey wire fence. Its dirt stained front door. Its rooms that smell like all the mistakes I’ve made. I am swallowed into its chipped paint. With my hair still smelling like oil and burnt deep fried food.
Homelessness in Australia is often misunderstood, stereotyped or invisible. Homelessness isn’t just sleeping rough on the streets, although for many that is the reality. Homelessness is characterized by a lack of access to safe, affordable and appropriate accommodation. This includes examples such as couch surfing between friends and family (not a long term solution), having somewhere long term to live that isn’t safe (ie. Domestic violence situations, room mates selling drugs etc) or living somewhere where the costs of that accommodation are more than 50% of your income.
The Chamberlain and MacKenzie 2008 Counting the Homeless Report 2006 (ABS) provides the following more detailed definitions of the various types of homeslessness:
Primary homelessness includes all people without a ‘roof over their head’. This means people who are living on the streets, sleeping in parks, squatting in derelict buildings or using cars or trains as temporary shelter.
Secondary homelessness includes people who frequently move from one type of shelter to another. This includes people living in homeless services, hostels, people staying with other households who have no home of their own and people staying in boarding houses for 12 weeks or less.
Tertiary homelessness refers to people who live in boarding houses on a medium to long term basis (more than 13 weeks), who live in accommodation that does not have ‘self-contained facilities’ for example they do not have their bathroom or kitchen and who don’t have the security provided by a lease. They are homeless because their accommodation does not have the characteristics identified in the minimum community standard for housing.
In Australia, we often think of homelessness as older men sleeping rough (these are the images we often see associated with homelessness in the media in particular), but the statistics show that in fact 42% (!!!) of people experiencing homelessness are under 24 and the gender divide (across ages) is 56% male and 44% female. It’s also worth noting that homeslessness happens in both metro and regional communities, though it can be harder to spot in regional communities where it’s easier to see a tent by the river and just think it’s a regular camper.
It’s Youth Homeslesness Matters Day in two weeks time (9th April), which is an annual National awareness day for youth homelessness in Australia. Now is the perfect time to get involved or think about hosting an event – more details about how you can support Youth Homeslessness Matters Day through advocacy, sharing or hosting an event can be found here.
Also check out One Night Stand (Melbourne) and Street Smugglers (Perth) – two awesome organisations tackling homelessness in entirely different ways, led by two awesome young men I’m lucky enough to know through the Foundation for Young Australian’s Young Social Pioneers Program.
You can also find out more information on the realities, stats and what you can do to help at Homelessness Australia.
I had two experiences of homeslessness as a teenager – the one I touched on briefly above (with my trusty XF) and the second a month or so of hopping between houses, including a week in a house with no electricity, hot water etc where the actual tenant was staying elsewhere – because they had upset their drug dealer and were afraid they would be tracked down to the house and bashed! I was 7 months pregnant by that stage.
People who know me now struggle to place me in those situations, struggle to reconcile that I am the same person. Sometimes I do too. Much of that period of my life feels like a story I’m remembering about someone else. A dream.
It’s a dream I was lucky enough to wake from before the cycle became too ingrained to release me. I’m grateful every day for that.
Not everyone is so lucky or happens to fall into the right circles at the right time, but we can all make a difference to ending homelessness in Australia by supporting the work of the organisations I’ve shared above. So please do head to the links, do some reading and remember to share Youth Homeslessness Matters Day on the 9th April.