Challenge: Waking Up to the Poverty in Your Streets
Posted on 24 March 2017
I would like to challenge people. I want you to take a pocket full of coins, go out into the streets, give that change to various beggars, then wait for them to look up at you.
Don’t expect them to thank you, but accept their thanks if they give it. Look into their faces and give them the dignity of recognising their humanity.
Do that a few times and see what you can read for a moment in their faces.
These people aren’t pretty. They will be dirty and some will look pretty hardened. Some will look utterly despaired. Others may smile at you. With some you may feel the drag of their wishing you could give them more.
Don’t try to rationalise who you give money to. You will still probably find yourself preferring some beggars to others. It will feel safer to give money to women and children. It might feel easier to give to those who don’t look as needy, because you won’t feel as much drag.
Some beggar’s neediness may look like an act. The problem is that some people don’t feel the need to give unless the person is so destitute they could be at death’s door. In fact for the homeless because they don’t have an address, they cannot receive government benefits. So, they are forced to become professional beggars and must use all the same tactics as advertisers. This is not their fault, this is what they are forced to do just to survive.
Recognise how little these street people have. All the items you see surrounding them are the entirety of their worldly goods. If they leave those items for even a few moments to use the toilets, the city government confiscates all their things. Those items include water bottles, blankets, and genuine medicines. They then have to beg to recover those things and in the meantime do without water, blankets, or medicines.
The homeless have chosen food over shelter, which is why they are living in the city. In the city they have CCTVs to help keep them safe. In the suburbs certain homeless people have been anonymously kicked to death by drunken youths. You will notice homeless people don’t often sleep in alleys these days.
Because I write for musicals and work with singers, I know what breathing looks like. I know when someone is breathing deeply. I know when someone is using their diaphragm correctly. I know when someone is having trouble breathing because they are nervous. A month or so back I saw a man lying on the street clearly not breathing. A couple police were standing on either side of him, smiling and directing people around. They were waiting for the paramedics. Most people passed that afternoon without noticing this man was dead. He had to die alone in the street.
Only a couple weeks ago a thirty year old woman, her boyfriend and her fourteen year old daughter were sleeping in an abandoned rope factory in Footscray where they had been squatting. On that day the owner of the factory was told by the city council the property could be redeveloped for housing. That night he set the factory on fire and burnt those people to death.
You might feel terrified that you can’t give enough, that these people will want to take everything you have until you are one of them. Perhaps you will feel angry that you have been made to feel guilty and/or responsible. Perhaps you will feel anxious that you will never be able to do enough. Perhaps you will become afraid that being near these people may rub off. You might even be afraid that they will rise up and become violent.
All you have been asked to do at this time is to give a little change directly to these people: not through some charity that takes their cut and sanitises the experience. Give a little change and encourage a lot more change in the society around you. You have looked into the faces of these people and, if you are any kind of human being, you have seen yourself but for the grace of fate. You alone cannot fix all the problems of the poor, but you can help. Let this be a start. Start with some understanding.
Peace and kindness,