WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED
By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ
For most of us, Homelessness Week reminds us of people whom we do not know personally. They are other people who sleep on the streets or under bridges. During Homelessness Week we may be moved to sleep rough for a night at an event held in solidarity with them.
This year, Homelessness Week has moved closer to home. It is about people like us. We read the stories of people who come to the city to work but cannot find accommodation, about ageing people forced from their rented accommodation by rapidly rising rents, about couples and families who live in tents or in their vehicles, about students who come to Australia to study but return home because they cannot find a place to live, about middle-aged people who move back with their elderly parents. We know some of these people, and we have heard stories of others from our friends. We can imagine ourselves as homeless.
We may not experience, but can readily imagine, the pain and isolation that go with being homeless. Without a fixed residence we find it difficult to plan; our communication with government departments becomes difficult; the things we take for granted in our daily life such as cooking, hygiene, washing clothes, relaxing and planning become major challenges. Our network of connection with family, friends and neighbours becomes stretched. If we have children we may be forced to move from place to place to find temporary accommodation despite the disruption this brings to their growth, their friendships and their sense of security. Homelessness is more than a misfortune. It is the violation of the right of every human being to a culturally appropriate place in which to live.
The growth of homelessness and the inability and unreadiness of governments to address its causes and effects reveal to us that the way in which we shape our economy needs urgent reform. Over many years it has come to increase the wealth of the rich and to put increasing pressure on those without property. We have allowed houses to become primarily an investment and not places of living, and have subsidised the wealthy to live off these investments. At the same time, we have resisted paying higher taxes and reducing subsidies to investors in order to apply the funds to build public housing. Homelessness is not an act of God. It is the result of priorities we have tolerated that have increased inequality and with it the price of housing and the consequent exclusion of people who are less well off.
In this Homelessness Week we should, as Jesus would want us to do, look out for people who are homeless in our own neighbourhood and among our friends, join local groups that help people find accommodation and pressure our governments to reform the systems that make for homelessness.
When it comes to lack of shelter, we should not be content to have the poor always with us. We should ensure that the poor can share with us the world, our common home.