When I first decided to do this run to Melbourne, I had underestimated the stigma and bias that bleeds into public thinking around homelessness specifically, and poverty in general.
The moment I decided to take on the task of running to Melbourne is one that I still find shocking - toward the end of an early morning run I found an unconscious man laying partially on the road of a busy intersection. I don't know what caused him to be in the state I found him, but I did know, immediately, that he was extremely vulnerable. I pulled him to the footpath, out of the way of cars , buses and trucks - dozens of which had driven by without stopping -and placed him in the recovery position; checked for serious injury, a pulse and breathing. Then, while thinking through what to do next I realised that not too far away there were people quite obviously looking everywhere and anywhere but at the situation unfolding within plain view...no one offered to help.
The anger, closer to fury, from that moment has been enough to sustain me through the hardest of training sessions and the battle of gaining support for the cause.
'If you're born poor, it's not your mistake but if you die poor it's your mistake' - Bill Gates
Most of Australia, consciously or unconsciously, still subscribes to the idea that the poor and/or homeless are responsible for their own dire circumstances. This is despite public knowledge that there is simply not enough affordable housing, support through mental health concerns, or employment opportunity for those with disabilities and/or chronic health issues... and the domestic violence epidemic.
Australians living below the poverty line are held to a far higher standard of financial accountability than those who enjoy great wealth. Media and marketing thrive on the 'you deserve it' agenda for encouraging spending on non-essential items, but many people are greatly offended if they see someone they believe to be of a low income and/or homeless smoking, drinking alcohol or buying items they deem to be frivolous... inadvertently agreeing that you only 'deserve', if you meet a higher standard of income and social standing. (obviously I am not advocating for smoking - the verdict is in and it is a bad for you no matter how much money you earn)
Science shows us however, that it is NOT that poor people make poor choices and therefore are the cause of their poverty and by contrast wealthy people make good choices and therefore the reason they are wealthy - it is actually that poverty causes poor decisions - and enables the poverty trap beyond the obvious cycle.
Poverty is not a lack of character, it is a lack of cash - Rutger Bregman
What if we remove the blame...
In Australia we have Politicians on base salaries of over $200 000.00 a year claiming that Newstart does not need to be raised because they believe they personally would be able to survive on less than $40.00 a day...because they are wildly out of touch with reality !
And a Housing Minister who thinks a 'positive spin' on homelessness is in order despite an increase of 14% over 5 years.
That said Australians are generous - in 2015/2016 they donated $12.5 billion to charities and not-for-profits...of which there are many. All is not even stevens though - for example breast cancer research garners far more media attention and therefore funds as it is seen as a cancer in which the victim is blameless (there is also the whole emotive issue of breasts, and mothers, daughters, sisters and so on) compared to lung cancer which for obvious reasons is associated with smoking (but not everyone who suffers from lung cancer is or was a smoker).
In an ideal world there would be enough money to spread around and share with all charities, not-for-profits and organisations that need funding - and we could all agree that poverty is a cause that is right up there, deserving of funds.
In the meantime -what if, collectively, we saw each person living below the poverty line, or experiencing homelessness, as the individual they are- with unique experiences that brought them to this point instead of the sum of our preconceived ideas? If, collectively, we noticed the good in them, took time to acknowledge them, understand them, empathise with them and care for them? Would we be more willing to go that bit further and help them - fight the systems and societal failings that enable poverty and/or homelessness.
I think so.
I have written to hundreds, and hundreds of business and organisations about my run from Adelaide to Melbourne - I have emailed media, radio, shops, industries and collectives, politicians, individuals and groups... I have reached out to government and private sector -multinationals, companies and small grassroots organisations.
And only half a dozen have even bothered to respond.
Obviously, there are people who are already passionate about social justice and homelessness, and I have the support of my friends and colleagues...but the rest of Australia, it seems, is not much interested in giving money to a cause in which they lay blame squarely at the feet of the victim.
Recently, in my own backyard, a building of historical significance was torn down in preparation for a new housing development. Some of the local business and organisations that were 'unable' to assist my cause suddenly found funds, energy and stamina to fight for this inanimate object - they held wine and picnic fundraisers not two blocks from an area where three or four men where sleeping rough. Local businesses attached banners to their buildings, and the media attention was high. They should have won - the building should have stayed.
But... how wonderful would it be for the creatives, the local businesses, and the middle classes to be equally offended by homelessness (not the 'homeless') and to generate an equal amount of government and civic participation in reducing the number of people within our community with nowhere to call home?
How wonderful would it be to see so much energy poured into something that has immediate and profound outcomes for individuals as well as contributes the financial and physical well-being of the wider community?
It has been an unexpectedly hard road gather support. I know that this run will cost me more than I had planned financially, and I know that it might not raise as much money as I hoped...but doing this run has already afforded me many conversations with people - and those conversations have had a ripple effect...and ripples start small BUT they get bigger, and that is enough xx