Homelessness - An address given by Father Pat MacAnally OMI
Homelessness is a cancer of the emotions that eats away a person’s happiness, joy and hope. We at Rosies understand homelessness, not in the absence of safe and secure shelter that is described as houselessness, but rather… the condition of emotional emptiness and isolation. We see that a person can be sucked into the condition of homelessness due to a deprivation of basic emotional needs like love, acceptance, belonging, and achievement. So it is not primarily physical, something that can be seen and observed, but rather an intangible condition of hopelessness, sadness and emptiness that is around us in the streets and even in our families.
Who are they?
There are degrees of homelessness from the person who has a house but is neither safe nor secure in that shelter, to the destitute "rough sleeper", who can be found on the cold park benches, behind the wet damp trees, under the noisy fumy bridges, in the lonely crowded caravans or cars, in the impersonal boarding houses, even in our own busy homes. They are the neglected and abused children, youth unable to connect with parents, women who are victims of domestic violence, and depressed single men and women. They are the "druggies, alkos, prostitutes, mentally ill." To the question "How do passers-by treat you?" the common answers reveal core hurts of being unloved, isolated, rejected, treated "like vermin, like dirt, they don’t want to see us, they ignore us." These people who society excludes - Rosies includes.
Homelessness is a complex tapestry woven from diverse social conditions such as dysfunctional families, violence in the home, unemployment, poverty, substance abuse issues, gambling, mental health problems, damaging role models, absent parents, and social isolation. In many cases there is no one cause but the result of a number of factors working over a period of time. Survival is a matter of knowing where to get a feed or a cup of coffee, or a blanket and a bed, or the savvy to avoid the dangers that lurk on the streets. Such conditions are sucking people into the depths of unbearable psychological pain. No one can fathom the pain they are suffering on the inside.
Sadly, very sadly for those without the resilience to survive, suicide is too often used as a release from the pain of these intolerable emotions. In its wake: devastation, guilt, bewilderment for family and friends.
What are the costs?
The impact of homelessness can be seen across the board in the individual, the community, and the nation. The individual is denied basic emotional needs of love and acceptance. The homeless individual is vulnerable to unemployment, ill-health, lack of motivation to involve themselves in the economic and social development of their community. The community isolates some people - socially isolated people will engage in anti-social behaviour. The whole gamut of crime including theft, bag-snatching, bashings, graffiti, create instability and lack of security within the community. Businesses lose out, tourism declines, people are insecure. Despite the fact that the Federal and State governments have allocated millions of dollars towards intervention and prevention programmes homelessness continues to spread. There is a clear cut business decision. When business partners with community organizations it is a win-win situation. Now is the time for private and corporate leaders to invest in measures to prevent homelessness. It just makes common sense - less anti-social behaviour creates a more safe and secure community.
The Founder of the Oblate Congregation’s life-motto was “Leave nothing undared”. The 400 volunteers are the heart-beat of the Rosies mission sharing the Oblate ‘spirit of daring’. Inspired by Gospel values, we see the person behind the action - whether they are drugging, sniffing, drinking, we respond to the person who is searching for acceptance and friendship. Our understanding that people are created in the image of God with human dignity enables us to offer a unique service to the most abandoned and marginalised. The coffee and doughnuts handed out is the means used to be present with them, to walk the path of homelessness with them, to offer a listening ear. So it is not mere charity that we offer but more importantly human rights - the right to be accepted, the right to belong, the right to be respected, and the right to speak and to be listened to. With a non-preaching, non-judgemental approach we fulfil our mission on the streets by making love real, by putting faith into action. Rosies volunteers empower patrons by respecting their dignity and re-building their self-esteem.
Street Outreach – sees teams of volunteers going onto the street to offer tea, coffee, hot chocolate and most importantly, a listening ear as their ‘friends on the street’.
Children’s & Drug Court Support – sees the same offer of advocacy in the court environment. We spend time with offenders and their families in the hope of breaking the cycle of crime.
Prison & Youth Detention Visitation – sees Rosies volunteers spend time with inmates, to help rebuild self-esteem and social skills through building friendships. The prisoners on ‘the inside’ are very much homeless – many do not have family or friends available to talk to and as a result can often struggle on ‘the outside’ through not being able to build positive relationships.
These are the people from all walks of life and maybe from our own families who are engulfed in homelessness. They are struggling in life: feeling lonely, feeling isolated, feeling rejected, emotionally scarred. So Rosies offers a unique solution - we are not miracle workers but we are working towards some little miracles. Our solution is: to the lonely, we offer friendship; to the isolated we offer inclusion; to the rejected we offer acceptance. In doing this we change their state of being from hopelessness to hope, and isolation to inclusion by offering them experiences of home and community when they come to the Rosies van, and their friends on the street.
Homelessness is the most damaging and destructive spiritual illness in Australian society today... and Rosies thanks you sincerely for entrusting us and supporting us to be part of the healing solution.
(Address given by Fr Pat MacAnally OMI, Spiritual Director Rosies, at the Tapestry Fund Launch by General Peter Cosgrove AC MC, October 2004, Queensland Irish Club, Brisbane. Copyright 2004)