Nicolette G. Sydney, Australia


June 9, 2014

Living in Sydney has given me an unexpected experience with homelessness. Particularly because my apartment is across from a main shopping mall where many homeless locals settle to ask for spare change and food from passers-by. I have had an opportunity to watch the progression from an individual struggling with addiction and or mental illness to homeless and begging for money to complete destitution. It is a really sobering experience but also one that makes me feel hopeless. I have always been hesitant to give homeless people anything but food. What if the money I give someone is used to score heroin or a bottle of vodka? I feel like I would only be hurting them more than helping.

I had one experience that heightened this sense of hopelessness I have felt during my time walking the streets of Sydney. After getting lunch with a friend and realizing it was cash only establishment, I went to an ATM to take money. Mid this process, a woman who was half talking to herself and upon seeing me approached and started speaking directly to me. She asked if I had spare change. As the ATM dispensed $20 in front of her and into my hand, I lied to her and said no. When clearly, she had eyes. She knew I was lying. As she turned, I saw the track marks on her arms and almost chased her down with the $20.

Instead, I bought chips (Australian french fries) and found the woman, not far from where I had last encountered her and still talking to herself. I wasn’t sure what to say but when I approached her, there was no sign of recognition on her face. And when I offered her the chips and she threw them to the side of the road and look at me with dead eyes.

I wasn’t sure how to feel in that moment. I felt more than hopeless- awkward, confused, insecure regarding my intentions and wondering if I had somehow offended her. But the more I thought about our double encounter, I realized that you couldn’t want to help someone if they didn’t want to help themselves or furthermore, didn’t have the capability to help themselves. And how could you help yourself without the means to do so? Especially when you call the streets, “home”.

I felt like I need to be challenged to confront homelessness in a way that was meaningful to me. I wanted to know, what home was to a person dubbed “homeless.” And I did not want to place my judgment on only what I saw on a surface level when I passed these individuals on the street day after day. I wanted them to speak for themselves.

I am lucky that I had the opportunity to work with homeless vendors, all with their own story, at the Big Issue in Sydney. I ran a human-interest project there that I hoped to make as non invasive as possible. I left a shoebox with a stack of small slips of paper that asked the following questions:

What is something (or someone) that no matter where you have moved or lived, you have brought with you? (For example, a family member, a CD, a piece of jewelry etc.)

What is home to you?

What is something you have lost?

I received many responses and even had individuals willing to share their full stories with me. I do not feel comfortable sharing these stories but have detailed below the responses I received (in the exact syntax I received them) under the heading of each question.

What is something (or someone) that no matter where you have moved or lived you have brought with you?

My partner (Robert), teddy bear, photo album/ceramic pot from Dad’s funeral, my kids and Mrs/Tanya, myself, bank card, elephant toy, my-self, there ain’t much that I have in this world, my dogs, television, clothes, shoe’s, yourself, my daughter, my cat,

What is home to you?

A nice warm bed, a dry place + safe, not always where I stay somewhere I feel safe not comfortable, a roof ‘ova’ my head/(really) a loving warm house with my Mrs & kidz, 4 walls + roof, Big Issue/Antarctica, everything, a safe place to has the esenterals (essentials) that come with a home, Everything without home I would have NOTHING trust me i know what it’s like to be homeless, open door,

What is something you have lost?

Heaps of photos that are sentimental, remote control of T.V., photo of my father swimming, my roxy dog, nothing, because I don’t get nothing, beauty, dryer, my children that I realy (really) do cherish very much, probaly (probably) the old furniture, the shower and toilet would’ve been diffferent (different), and maybe the area, something you put up on a wall and can’t take it down, opal ring my mothers.

Ultimately, I think these responses stand for themselves. Because at the end of the day, who am I to pass judgment and turn these individuals’ personal truths into statistical evidence? But I did learn a valuable lesson. Home is a vision. It is not only the actual physicality of a place but also what we carry with us. It doesn’t matter if you are homeless or own three homes in three different countries. The meaning of home is individualized and in one way or another, we as humans have all lost or gained aspects of this vision in our lifetimes.