At first glance, the rows of tents look quaint, they conjure images of early settlers’ life in a new country – but there is nothing nostalgic or poetic about being homeless. A tent isn’t good enough for a person, and it’s certainly not good enough for a family.
For too many people, though, a tent is home. In the middle of one of the most affluent pockets of the world, I found this little tent village, and I learned about the people inside.
Oliver doesn’t have a surname. He doesn’t have a lot of things, foremost a home. Oliver’s tent sits among perhaps a dozen others, and I saw the steam from his billy tea before I even knew anyone was there. We chatted about his past, present and the big one: how did he come to live under a bridge, alone?
Oliver warned me his story was “a bloody sad one” and he wasn’t wrong.
Neglect, abuse and addiction – he shied away from detailing his battle with mental health issues, but it was apparent Oliver isn’t well and hasn’t been for a long time.
The saddest part of Oliver’s story wasn’t his devastating childhood, or losing his job and partner – and battle with the bottle. The saddest part of the story was the one he didn’t tell. The story of a little tricycle propped up beside the tent, tiny shoes and finally a small voice: “Dad?”
Yes, it’s a bloody sad story, but it could happen to almost anyone.
The issue isn’t the cost of housing in isolation – it’s a story of mental illness and a lack of community. For so many of our homeless, this is their story, too. Abuse, addiction, neglect – and simply not having people around them to lift them when they fell.
Many homeless women have fled abusive partners, after becoming so isolated in their relationship, they no longer had family or friends around them to break their fall.
More and more, we are seeing cuts to frontline mental health services and care networks, the budget does not and cannot conceivably stretch to cover all the cracks. The only thing growing steadily in countries all over the world is population. Could we try to harness people power to create the communities we no longer have? Why don’t we open our homes to the vulnerable?
Imagine what we could learn about ourselves and each other.
Imagine how many people we could catch before they fall.
*Oliver asked me not to share pictures of the camp – he is afraid of being moved on and losing his home.