More often than not it takes going to another place to see an issue for what it truly is. I say this because coming from Southern California I found myself overlooking the struggle that is helping the homeless find hope for a future that has more to it than a hard ground and an uncertainty in what the next day holds. Our outreach to Newcastle is beginning to reveal to me that there is so much that needs to, and can be done to help people all over the world.
Newcastle is a city in New South Wales, Australia; NSW hosts approximately one quarter of the country’s total population. Of that total population approximately 105,000* people are by legal definition, homeless. That still does not account for the total amount of people who live below the poverty line in Australia, which is 2,265,000 people (12.8% of all people)**. Like all heavily populated cities there will be a higher case of homeless in the area for a wide array of reasons, and on one of the nights in Newcastle our team got the opportunity to spend time with a few people who tragically fall under these categories. Craig and Rachel (and their dog Dexter) were a some of these people.
Craig is twenty years old and as we were talking I found out that he had been on the streets homeless since he was 13, I could only venture to guess as to how long his girlfriend has also been homeless. In a short amount of time I got a glimpse into their lives, having to live out of one suitcase and be constantly protective of that as well for fear of having it stolen or fought over by people stumbling through the streets around them.
Before this time I struggled with justifying compassion for people and the mentality of them just having to try harder, but as the night went on, seeing more and more people come up to the Night Vision van for coffee and food I began to think that maybe it’s more my lack of compassion that keeps these people out on the streets as opposed to the lack of wanting to take care of themselves.
How often do we cross the street, how often do we pretend not to hear, how often do we, in that silence, make up our own stories of how we think they got there, instead of reaching out in love, to the point they’re at then and help them make a better future? It was long overdue for me to stop wondering at someone’s past and be more concerned for their future. With the way my past has looked dramatically different to my present and future, I felt responsible to give someone else that same opportunity.
Because we were working with the Night Vision team we had access to information about the area that otherwise we wouldn’t have. With that help we were able to find a shelter that was near a pet centre that had a team specifically focused on housing pets of people who didn’t have a home so they could have the reassurance that their pets would be taken care of. Not only that, but the Night Vision team kept extra blankets on hand for people they met that we were able to give to the couple. All of this coming together could not have worked out more perfectly with us working as a team with the organizations in Newcastle already and being able to show that these individuals mattered to us.
We were actually able to catch up with those same two people the very next night at the free sausage roast and see how they were doing! It was a great thing to have the opportunity to follow up with those that we meet, unfortunately that is often not the case due to so many circumstances. Just seeing the difference one night spent with them and showing that they mattered to us and to God through our actions and sharing with them, we could see a visible change in their outlook on things and for me personally I could absolutely see that hope had been put back into their lives.
+ Names changed for privacy issues