It is around this time of year - in Australia - that our collective conscience is pricked...we start to consider more thoughtfully those who have no where safe to sleep each night; while the cold wind howls and the torrential rain pours down our windows.
We have this thing here in Adelaide - and in many other places I imagine -called a 'Code Blue'. It is activated when the winter weather is so extreme that it is considered immediately hazardous to the well-being of those who are sleeping rough.
The State Government of SA released this statement two days ago:
A Code Blue activation ensures there is shelter and services available overnight for rough sleepers during extreme winter weather conditions,” said Minister Lensink.
“Given the predicted significant rainfall and strong winds today, it is appropriate to call a Code Blue response to give people sleeping rough some respite.
“Specific conditions are needed in order to activate a Code Blue and in August last year, the State Government reviewed the current Code Blue triggers in consultation with our local homelessness services.”
BUT - it was too late for one woman who died the night before in the South Parklands, ill and unable to find shelter for the night. You can read more here.
Homelessness is generally not good for anyone's well-being, without including the impact of extreme weather events. The North and West Homelessness Networks describes the relationship between health and homelessness;
Over the last decade, there has been a compelling and growing body of evidence demonstrating that experiencing homelessness not only causes illness but that it can exacerbate pre- existing health issues to critical levels that are then often only addressed in a partial or fragmented way, especially for those community members who experience frequent and lengthy episodes of homelessness.
The health & homelessness interplay is commonly considered to operate on three levels;
First, some health problems can cause a person to become homeless. For example, poor physical or mental health can reduce a person’s ability to find employment or earn an adequate income.
Second, some health problems are consequences of homelessness. These include depression, poor nutrition, poor dental health, substance abuse and mental health problems. According to recent studies, homeless people also experience significantly higher rates of death, disability and chronic illness than the general population.
Third, homelessness exacerbates and complicates the treatment of many health problems. Homeless people have significantly less access to health services than the broader population. Reasons for this may include financial hardship; lack of transportation to medical facilities; lack of identification or Medicare Card; and difficulty maintaining appointments or treatment regimes
Housing is the key
The answer to homelessness is housing - affordable housing, unconditional supported housing...and lots of it.
We could debate endlessly how to make this happen, but not the merits;
But what I want to say is this...
Each night, regardless of the weather, I think of the individuals (and they are all uniquely individual) that I have encountered while they were experiencing homelessness; how tenacious, adaptable, creative and enduring they all are. I wonder how they are, where they are...and I hope they are alright.
Mostly, I remember the first 'homeless person' I ever really conversed with, and I wonder how he is, where he is....and I hope that he is alright.
When I was a teenager, I worked in my mother's shop in the City after school on Fridays. One such Friday evening I was waiting for someone to collect me after I had finished my shift. It was late, and dark...and as I sat near the road, a man approached me. He was obviously someone who was sleeping rough, he was also obviously a nice, affable chap.
He sat with me and asked why I was on my own...we chatted and I asked about his life ...he shared. And it turned out he was deaf, like me.
Being hearing impaired was something I was quite embarrassed by, and something I hid as best as I could; I adapted, worked around, dodged and endured...and I hadn't known anyone else who was deaf or hard of hearing. Now I did.
What stayed with me, after my lift had arrived and I was on my way home, was that this man, who was experiencing homelessness, had something uniquely in common with me...that we were more the same than we were different.
It was a lesson I never forgot.