All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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World Homeless Day: Thirteen ways you can help the homeless

In addition to being World Mental Health Day, today is also World Homeless Day; a day to draw attention to homeless people’s needs and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness.

To celebrate World Homeless Day 2013, I have decided to share thirteen ways in which you can help the homeless, most drawn from the five-years I spent as a person experiencing homelessness. This way, you have no excuse for not helping a homeless person on this most necessary (and often forgotten) of days! :)

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My ‘home’, circa 2010 | © Addy

1.  Educate yourself about homelessness
One of the first – and best – things you can do to help the homeless is find out who they really are. They may be someone who has lost their job, someone who is suffering from mental health problems or someone escaping an abusive relationship. They are rarely, if ever, the stereotype of the alcoholic-junkie who has chosen to be homeless that many people continue to believe in.

2. Donate money
This can either be given directly to a homeless person, or preferably via a charitable organisation whose soul aim is to assist the homeless. This money will then be used to provide food, clothing, emergency shelter and other necessary items, all of which go a long way to helping a homeless person on a day-to-day basis.

3. Give food
If a homeless person is asking you for money for food, why not offer to buy them a sandwich or some other foodstuff instead? It is a misconception that every beggar is looking for money for alcohol or drugs, many are simply hungry and will all-too-happily take you up on your generous offer. And remember: if you offer someone a ‘big mac’ and they refuse, they may not be lying to get money out of you, they may simply be a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t like red-meat (see item 12, below)

4.Donate clothing
Never underestimate the importance of a clean pair of socks or deliciously warm jacket. If you’re not comfortable donating money or food, why not donate clothing (or some new pairs of socks) to your local homeless organisation. These are items that are always required and will be most gratefully received.

5. Donate groceries
Homeless charities are always looking for donations of good quality, non-perishable foodstuffs. So why not organise a bag or box and donate them to your local food bank? Better yet, if you work for a food manufacturer, perhaps consider organising a regular donation to assist those most in need.

6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or soup van
Virtually every major town and city in the world has a soup kitchen or van of some description. Why not take a few hours out of your week to volunteer at one (or both) of these. You’ll not only be nourishing a homeless person’s stomach, but nourishing their soul with your kindness.

7. Buy the Big Issue (or if you’re in the US, Street Sheet)
These magazines are sold by homeless people in virtually every major city. As well as being a cracking read, a percentage of every issue sold goes directly to the homeless person selling them. What could be better than that?

8. Organise a fund-raising event
Why not organise a charity event through your local school or business to help raise funds for your local homeless services. Car boot sales, raffles, trivia nights or cake stalls are always well received by the community, even more so when people know their time and money is going toward such a worthwhile cause.

9. Volunteer your services
Are you a doctor? Lawyer? Dentist? Psychiatrist? A homeless person may require some or all of these services, so why not donate your time to offer your professional services to those who are most in need of it?

10. Educate yourself as to what services are available in your area
Every town and city have organisations whose specific aim is to assist the homeless. If you were to find out where these organisation were and how they helped (i.e. whether it is with food, emergency housing, counseling etc.) you will be able to pass this on to a homeless person as and when the situation arises. Remember, just because they are homeless does not mean they are aware of all the services available to them. Some may just need a helping hand to get their life together again.

11. Don’t ignore a homeless person
Walking past a homeless person and pretending they are not there is cold, callous and shows them a complete lack of respect. Simply acknowledging their presence will be showing them a level of respect that they rarely, if ever, receive.

12. Treat a homeless person as the unique individual they are
Many people continually refer to homeless people as the homeless; a term that strips them off their uniqueness as a human being. A homeless person is just like you, your friends or family members. They have loves, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations and everything else in between. So why not treat them as the unique and wonderful human being they are?

13. Talk to them
Quite possibly the simplest item on this list, but is still the one many people forget about. A homeless person is not only starved of food and shelter, they are also starved of human contact. The simple act of talking to them will most likely make their day in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine! :)

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This moment – which saw me realise a life-long dream of hugging a wombat – was taken the same day as the photograph above. It would never have happened without the kindness of the wombat’s keeper, who treated me like a unique individual instead of just another one of ‘the homeless’, | © Addy

A selection of other articles I’ve written about homelessness:


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World Homeless Day: The day Australia forgot

Earlier on today I wrote a small post about World Mental Health Day. A day set up to raise awareness of mental illness and the problems those suffering from it face on a day-to-day basis. I also questioned the merit of yet another day to raise awareness of mental health problems when there are already so many events on the calendar for this cause.

What many forgot – or simply don’t realise – is that today is also World Homeless Day, a day that does need more awareness.

On the last census night (August 2011) there were 89,728 human beings classified as being homeless in Australia. Some were sleeping in boarding houses, some refuges, some motel hopping or staying with friends. Others, like myself, were huddled under blankets or sleeping bags trying to endure the harsh winter’s night. Every one of them had been forgotten; cast aside by a society that doesn’t care.

Since first logging onto Twitter this morning I have watched the #WorldMentalHealthDay hashtags filling my stream from every corner of this country. Dozens of organisations, politicians, celebrities, journalists and regular folk have been tweeting to raise awareness of this important health issue.

They haven’t for World Homeless Day.

Since first logging on this morning I’ve seen a mere three tweets mentioning this day of action and awareness, not a single one from politicians, celebrities, journalists or regular folk. (Perhaps they were there, I just didn’t see them, and I follow almost all the homeless organisations and advocates in Australia!)

Earlier this evening I tweeted a simple little tweet that, so far, has been retweeted once.

Another tweet I wrote, in response to Prime Minister Julia Gillard‘s tweet about World Mental Health Day has been retweeted five times.

For many years now I’ve been aware of the non-issue that homelessness is in Australia. Certainly, I will acknowledge that every now and then an article is written or a political promise made (the infamous halving of homelessness by 2020 comes immediately to mind), but compared to movements overseas there is nothing even comparable in this country.

My UK Tweeps have been doing me proud today. World Homeless Day has been mentioned almost as equally as World Mental Health Day, with many making the comparison I made in my second tweet about the two issues being connected. Specific hashtags – in addition to the general one – have also been created and pushed to promote the issue (#whatsyourstep, being one such example).

Given the time difference I know when I log onto Twitter tomorrow my US Tweeps will also be going World Homeless Day crazy, for unlike Australia, it is a real issue in both of these countries. An issue that people understand needs to be discussed and promoted at length if we stand any chance of ending homelessness for good.

Given Australia relishes in promoting it’s world-beating economy and the richness of its land, it is despicable that 90,000 people (rounded up to take into account those homeless – myself included – that were not counted as part of the census) do not have a place to call home. That they are living a cold, lonely existence on the streets of every town and city in this country with very few caring about their plight.

Not even the Prime Minister cared enough today to tweet a simple 140 character message in support of Australia’s homeless; an honor, as mentioned above, she did bestow on those with mental health problems. Perhaps because, unlike mental health, homelessness is still seen as the individual’s fault. Whereas in reality, it is a situation that could befall anyone; regardless of colour, creed or class.

As I wrote once before: all it will take is one or two sudden events and you too could find yourself sleeping in a park with a possum on your head.

The tagline for World Homeless Day is ‘thinking outside the cardboard box’.

Perhaps Australia could start with simply thinking about the homeless. Only then will we be able to put our heads together and come up with innovative ways to solve it.

Posts I have written about my homelessness:

Reflections on being homeless
(a six part series looking back on my 2009-2012 homeless period)
Twenty life lessons I learnt whilst homeless
No home, no life, no love, no stranger singing in your name
(a journal entry from my time on the street)
Five ways you could help the homeless
(written in 2010, whilst homeless)
Hope; the greatest weapon of all
(the things that gave me hope through my homelessness)
Addy’s (slightly tongue in cheek) guide to dealing with having a home after being homeless
(written in 2010, whilst homeless)

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