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Go and love someone exactly as they are. And then watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered – Wes Angelozzi.

People without a home

People without home is not a recent dilemma. It is one of the major problems faced by many countries globally and it is continuing to grow. I have documented many people living on the streets during my travels. Many times on the outskirts of Cairns city streets and parks, I have come in contact with many people from all different ethnic backgrounds. They have one thing in common – They’re all homeless people.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS) shows that the number of homeless people in Australia have increased dramatically over the last five years. It is certainly that Cairns is no stranger to this homeless epidemic. According to the city of Cairns figures, number of people sleeping rough in Cairns have gone up 75 percent in the past two years. It is a dark, deep hidden world that is circulating right beneath our surface.

On my many visits to this homeless community, I have chatted with many homeless people on regular basis and there are others that I chat once and never see again. With no judgement, I presume they have moved on to a different location depending on their need within the homeless community social structure. They may have simply found a better home but it is very unlikely to be the case. I not only chat with them but I bring them food and clothing depending on how we carried out our conversation the evening before.

Am I doing good or wasting my time, is the question that can be controversial for many people to answer depending on how they view their own world. For me, nor am doing good or wasting my time. There are many people out there who are homeless whether it is by choice or not but it is the social interaction that I treasure more. Many homeless people feel lovely because of the way the society looks at them, according to many I have spoken with.

Living in Cairns, one of the most beautiful cities in Australia is a city that is flooded with millions of visitors each year. It has one of the Natural Wonders of the World on its doorstep – The Great Barrier Reef. Many visitors throughout the world come to the area to see the reef and tick it off their bucket-list. With thousands of visitors flogging the area, in the evenings along the esplanade, the waterfront footpath from the south of the esplanade to the north becomes a sea of people with tourists and locals. It is heavily used by people for exercise and those who just have a relaxing afternoon strolling along the waterfront before retiring. 

Taking a drive along the Cairns esplanade in the afternoon after work has become part of my normal evening ritual. It is pleasantly beautiful and relaxing atmosphere. I came across a homeless person who was feeding the wild pigeons at the same spot everyday. I took time to have a chat with him and listen to what he had to say irrespective of things that I didn’t agree or approved. I continued to listen to him attentively without any disagreement remarks. One of the things I have learnt over the years is that people who live alone and do not have any other social interaction, it is very important to be a good listener and agree with their views. This is a vulnerable time where they spit out their emotions and frustrations.

John who call himself and wants to be known as “Jungle John” is no stranger to living on the streets. He is homeless and lives on his old customised van the he calls “Home”. He is not a drug addict, not an alcoholic, not a gambler and has no diagnosed mental illness, but he is homeless. 

After having few conversation, he began to open up more about himself. He had a decorated career. He spent many years working both overseas and in Australia during his work years. He mainly worked up in the Gulf country – Northern Territory and Northern tip of Australian communities and mines. He had a family and a home in and around Atherton, Tablelands until his wife passed away and his children moved out of the family home and moved interstate for jobs. He sadly continued to state that this was the moment he never saw it coming. He was lonely and didn’t like the idea of paying electricity, rates and other expenses which were costing him a lot.

He decided, it was time to live on his customised van moving in and around from south to Townsville, north to Cooktown and west to Tablelands. He had lived this lifestyle for many years and wouldn’t go back to live in a permanent block home. He tried it once before but he still slept on the floor with the mattress, even though the comfortable bed was right next to him. He was terrified of using stoves, micro-oven and other modern equipments in the house. He said, the transition process of getting back to normal (as we call it) may be over. He is getting old and he is happy where he is now and taking pride in feeding this wild pigeons on daily basis as we continued our conversation.

As I listened to his story, I began to question myself. This is no different to what I hear from passengers that travel on the train but from different level of lifestyle. Many people that I spoke to sold their homes and live on their luxury camper-vans travelling around Australia following the sun. Many others have been travelling for 15-30 years without permanent homes while others are more adventurous and have enough finance to travel around the world with their cars being shipped to each destination. For John, he probably didn’t have enough cash to live on a luxury camper-van. This was the only way he could afford to live the lifestyle that he enjoys.

After having a cup of tea in his old enamel cup, I drove home thinking about John’s life journey. People might say, he choose to live this way and he is not homeless but to me, he is homeless as he didn’t choose live the way he is living now. The fact is that, he was driven out by both internal and external factors: the death of his wife which is uncontrollable, children leaving home leading to his loneliness and high cost of living – bills he couldn’t afford to pay.

Yes, anecdotal evidence from the Guardian-society suggests that the homeless demographic is changing: increasingly drugs and mental illness are not the sole drivers. Instead, the sheer un-affordability of housing and family violence is pushing people onto the street.

From Personal Perspective: I have learnt that I am not here to judge others and what I don’t want to be judged by others or similarly, do not judge a book by its cover. To me, little by little as we began to interact and understand why they do what they do, things become a little clearer to us little by little.

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