I arrived into Melbourne tonight after a series of meetings in Newcastle. Jumped on the Skybus into the Melbourne CBD and then walked from Central Station to my motel. Checked in and then thought I would go for a walk and grab a bite to eat. I walked a couple of blocks, doubled back, bought a coke and decided I would head back to the motel. About 300 metres from my motel, I saw a homeless guy with his cardboard shelter set up for the night. Photo taken with his permission.
Earlier today on Facebook I had posted a video of a guy who pretended to be homeless and asked for money for alcohol and drugs and then he changed and asked for help for his family:- complete with 5 year old girl with him. People overwhelming gave him money for alcohol but not so much for his family.
I was impacted a few years ago when I did the St Vincent de Paul CEO Sleep Out. A former homeless woman spoke at the event and said the hardest part of being homeless is that no one sees you. She said she could go a whole day without anyone making eye contact with her or acknowledging her presence. I thought WOW! So from that experience on I have made a commitment to engage with every homeless person I see.
So back to Melbourne.
I asked the guy if I could sit with him and chat. He was keen so we sat and chatted for over an hour. His name is Bader. He is from Kuwait. He left Kuwait when he was ten, lived in Indonesia till he was 15 and then boarded a people smuggling boat for the journey to Australia. He didn’t make it to the mainland and spent almost a year on Christmas Island in the Detention Centre.
He is now in Australia on a bridging visa. He is able to work but is finding it hard to secure a job. His payment from Centrelink is $213 a week (I share these details with his permission). He was telling me it’s simply impossible to live on $213 a week.
While we sat on the hard pavement talking, I watched people walk past (as we were on busy Lonsdale St). Very few people looked in our direction and even less made eye contact. No one smile or greeted us.
I will say though I was touched by three guys who walked up offering us Pizza. They were from Defense Force Recruitment and had had a function on and had excess Pizza so they thought they would give it away. Well done guys.
I asked Bader if he was a Muslim. He said he should be as that’s what his parents want. (His parents live in Indonesia). But he doesn’t follow Islam. I talked about Christianity and what Jesus means to me.
I struck by the comment Bader said to me about the depth of his loneliness. He is 18, he has no family here and has no friends. I suggested he go to a local church and join their young adults program if for nothing else by the companionship.
Anyway after an hour we parted ways. I was deeply impacted by our exchange and I hope I bought some humanity to his evening.
If you see a homeless person. If you give them nothing else, give them a smile and acknowledge them as a person.
To end this story:- I paid for my young Kuwaiti friend to spend the next 8 nights in some nearby accommodation and gave him my phone number so I can put him in touch with some churches close by with good young adult programs.