This week I learnt something new about gratitude – that it’s not easy to feel grateful when you are tired, stressed or worn down by the world. Or when you see someone else who is.
I realised this as I stepped off the train after a long day with little thanks for any of my efforts, straight into the pouring rain, feeling the wind whipping down off the mountains. Head down, feeling the cold in every part of my body, all I could think about was getting home, warming up with a hot shower and then a glass of champagne. My next thought was the horrible realisation that tonight there were people sleeping outside.
While I was grateful for the roof over my head, the warmth of my house and all the other trappings of my first world life, I was also acutely aware that there were people sleeping rough who would be wet and cold and hungry. And that they too, lived in this ‘first world country’. And I realised that it’s very hard to count my blessings when I know that someone else is suffering. Because my gratitude doesn’t change their reality.
There are 105, 237 people experiencing homelessness in Australia. 56% are male, 44% are female.
Some sleep rough, in improvised tents, dwellings or without any sort of cover. Some are in supported accommodation, some stay temporarily with other households. Some sleep in boarding houses and others in temporary lodging. The majority sleep in overcrowded dwellings.
Let me put that into perspective for you – in this particularly fierce winter in the last fortnight in Sydney the temperatures have been dropping to an average of 6 degrees. In Canberra it got to minus 5. In Brisbane, where it’s normally balmy, it dropped to as low as 5 degrees. In Melbourne it averaged below 5 degrees at night. And that’s just the big cities. Now imagine you are sleeping under an old blanket, two if you are lucky, under an overpass or a bridge or on the steps of a building that during the day houses hundreds of workers (but is empty at night…).
If that’s not enough – 17% of Australian’s without homes are under the age of 12. That’s 17,845 kids under 12 who don’t have any certainty about where they will sleep tonight, who don’t have the security of a warm bed, a hot meal and someone to watch over them.
Homelessness is a complex problem. There is no single cause and, as such, there is no single answer. People experiencing homeless come from a wide range of backgrounds and lifestyles. Homelessness Australia lists the factors as:
- The chronic shortage of affordable and available rental housing.
- Domestic and family violence.
- Intergenerational poverty.
- Financial crisis.
- Long term unemployment.
- Economic and social exclusion.
- Severe and persistent mental illness and psychological distress.
- Young people exiting state care.
- People exiting prison.
- Severe overcrowding/housing crisis.
Homelessness Australia’s website also has some great ways you can help – and I always find helping makes my gratitude for what I have more authentic and not simply based in relief that it isn’t me… because the truth is it could be me… or you… or someone you know.
- Learn about the reasons for homelessness and then help dispel the stereo-types. Stand up and speak out.
- Donate items – not just the things you don’t need, but new items. Remember that what you are donating is going to a. people in real need who deserve better than your torn sweater and b. that there are volunteers who have to repair, sort and clean everything you donate – don’t waste their time.
- Have respect – remember that people who are homeless are people too.
- Volunteer – your money and donations count, but your time and expertise is invaluable.
Homelessness Prevention Week is August 3-9. It’s an opportunity for all of us to Step Up and get involved. (Follow the link for more information.)
This week what I learned about gratitude is not to take what it represents, i.e. all the blessings I have in my life, for granted. It is important that I honour those blessings and I feel I do that best by giving back.