Words by Lydia Cooper

    Around major cities of Australia thousands of homeless people are sleeping rough on the streets every night. It doesn’t matter what the weather is – cold, raining, or scorching hot – they have no choice but to live the vulnerable life of homelessness and endure these tough conditions.

    Each night they are vulnerable to the worst types of danger and a completely open environment, there is no safety and nothing to protect them. Many have dealt with petty gangs who caused violent attacks or even had their possessions stolen, and they are almost forced to sleep with one eye open because of the danger.

    Often a homeless person will ask for spare change or you might see a homeless person sitting with a ‘help’ sign, but you never know how far that help can go for someone living in those circumstances.

    Statistics show that currently there are around 105,237 homeless people living in Australia. Most of these people are aged under 50 and many are homeless youth who have been kicked out of home, or are victims of abuse or other factors – even worse is that more than 16,000 homeless people are actually aged under 12.

    Many families have been forced to live on the streets simply because they can’t afford rent or other living expenses.

    Homelessness can be caused by reasons ranging from long term employment, family violence, and disability, through to housing stress. We don’t know why they end up here or what their story is or how long they have lived in these circumstances, but each one of them is human just like you or me.

    I remember a time when I was in Melbourne, walking down a busy street, and a man sat in the street with his dog and a sign saying ‘help’. Most people kept walking and didn’t bother to acknowledge the man’s sign. I read the sign and gladly gave whatever spare change I had. I had a good chat with the man and he told me some of his story and how he ended up on the streets, I didn’t get anything for it except the good feeling of helping someone out who desperately needed it. I still think about this man and wonder how his life is now and hope that things are much better.

    A great way of helping people who are homeless is to understand and learn that every one of their stories is different and that they all have different reasons for living that way. Donating clothes, food and money is a big help and it is important to understand that homeless people deserve the same respect, discretion and kindness as any other human.

    Giving spare change or even just acknowledging these people or smiling at them goes a long way.

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