I had the good fortune to find an evidenced based research paper online and make contact with its author. We talked at length. His likened his agency to the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the USA. His role is to research then the findings to lobby government, educate the public and support local programs with his intel. He confirmed most of my observations and added even more dimension to them. We chatted about the historic deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and how it started in the 50s in the USA then moved to Europe in the 60s and finally Australia in the 70s. He pointed to meds as the great instigator of this but I added that the Kennedys were actually integral drivers of the movement as well caught up in human rights post war and having mental illness touching their own family. I told him of my observations and he commented he had heard Sydney compared to Berlin in terms of visible homelessness before. He confirmed that my impromptu interviews were on par with his finding on public opinion. He told me that there were local outreach programs but that many males prefer rough sleeping because drugs, criminals and unmanaged mental illness overrun boarding houses.
He continued that individual housing is available but the wait time on average is 12 years for men. Women and children get priority for obvious reasons. He demonstrated his real world connection to the issues- he had been on the streets here in Sydney and knew where all the pockets of homelessness were. He knew where all the pockets of homelessness were in all the major cities of Australia. He told me that he felt a home was always the preferred choice, but he understood the choice for the street over boarding as the lesser of 2 evils. Giving me an insider's look, he said he could never publicize this as government would use "choice" as an excuse not to fund programs. He told me that exposure to trauma on the streets is a big issue for these guys. They are frequently robbed often by young people drinking who think it would be a hoot to harass the homeless and pinch their coins. We talked a bunch about the WHY and then a bit about the WHAT can one person do. I told him that the kids and I were focusing on practicalities and not making a big production but working in a chance every day to buy some food and water and deliver it to a few in need. He weighed in that in this heat that was such a good way to do some good. The validation of the fruits of our struggle to find a helpful action was comforting. Before we said goodbye he shared contact details of someone in an agency locally in Sydney he thought would be good for me to chat with.
10:30AM. I go back out and reattempt approach. My guts say this guy has got an interesting story. Something about him reeks of remnants of a higher quality of life gone by. He had a cardboard sign when I got here but upgraded to a whiteboard. I was a consultant, I am a sucker for a whiteboard. Still, I check my fantasies about his experience with Maslow and the triangle (prior post reference). He might reveal himself to be incoherent and become agitated at the intrusion. Who am I to come into his world and poke it out of curiosity? 2 blocks away. My armpits and hands resume their sweat fest. My adrenal glands cursing me. I am a block away and still don't have an opening line. I am in a different place mentally then my first approach because of the resulting enlightenment proximity of an encounter gave me in the early morning hours. Everything seems crass.
The streets are alive now and I round the corner to him perched on his crate with eyes closed doing head circles. Managing sleep and uprightedness with bulk against gravity. There is no back to this crate- he has developed some skills. I am thankful my presence didn't wake him earlier as I see his exhaustion. The early morning hours are probably prime sleeping time with the streets still quiet yet light enough to ward off shenanigans. A loop-d-loop with his head and shoulders then 15 degree sway with the whole upper torso and SHAKE he rights himself. Passerbyers waiting for the light to change watch him wondering if he is going to fall off the box. He is in grey sweats, a worn t-shirt. His hair is shoulder length and gray with some curls. His full grayish-white beard and swollen face make it difficult to guess his age. He is a large man with rounded stomach and burly shoulders. His feet are bare and jet black on the bottom with city dirt at the farthest reaching places- like he was inked for footprints. Under his crate and between him and the Jacobs landscaping are a blanket and a stack of papers- his personal effects. His white board with his crafted plea for help explaining his stepdaughter's liver condition is sitting on a nearby shrub. I think back to when I first saw him how his message was on a piece of cardboard and wonder how his marketing materials came to improve. As I approach I find the sidewalk sticky with the faint smell of urine. Makes sense, he isn't getting up in the night and leaving his things..nor are there any public facilities even open. I want to take a picture from this range but can't stomach him opening his eyes and finding me doing so- treating him like a spectacle. Even thought everyone else around him is. He rouses for a minute to right himself on the crate and his eyes open half way. My spot. I will my muscles to move and propel myself towards him with the grace of the Frankenstein Monster. I hear the stickiness from the ground unreleasing from my shoe as I do so. Hi, My name is Jill, what is yours… as I offer my hand….