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The Coast

My Connections Home

By | The Coast

By Rosemary Bunker

How can I stand apart when I am implicated in your fate? As you tell your stories, I am one with you, branded homeless, hobbled and handcuffed. We struggle to find our way. The road turns in on itself. Is there no exit? No light ahead? We cling to hope – a sign? A guide? We are lost and alone, denied a compass to point the way home.
   We did not ask to travel this road through homelessness. The blows of our loved ones, our husbands, wives and lovers, drove us from home. It was war, our children and us the casualties, sleeping in refuges, sleeping cold and scared in cars, in parks, tossing on friends’ sofas, dreaming of a hot shower, desperate for food. We lost our jobs, our homes, our families.
    ‘Give me a drink, give me a shot,’ we cried to deaden the pain of being alive. Traumatised, we lost the skills to live. We spiralled down the black hole. Some did not come back.
    We wanted to get our lives in order. The stigma of homelessness was writ large across our foreheads. Employers, accommodation providers, relatives – all turned away. We felt like the scum of the earth. Abandoned by family and friends we learnt love does not exist here. How can our lives be scrapped so quickly? We did not see homelessness coming, did not choose to be homeless, did not choose to be victims. Life stripped us bare. The process was unrelenting. Naked in the storm we had to survive as best we could.
    To read the stories of the shell-shocked as they journey through homelessness is to grieve for the irreparable loss they felt. I am outraged that such suffering exists in this city of plenty. I respond with tears to the dignity and strength the photographs express of subjects willing to expose their private lives. I am heartened by the reflections many make on the experience of homelessness as with new insight they nurture the seeds of a future they begin to see as possible. They make plans to work with counsellors to reclaim lost parts of themselves; to study; to recognise the cost of wrong choice. They hope life for their kids will be better.
    MY CONNECTIONS HOME frames the stories of many journeys through homelessness. I hold the book and marvel at the silken feel of its cover that tells not of pain, failure and struggle but of warmth and hope. Light rises in the cover photograph under and around strong hands that are supporting the hands of another. The photograph takes us to the centre of the journey through darkness. Darkness exists but has not triumphed. It has been relegated to the background. I turn the book over and experience joy in the embrace of the man and his dog, in the power of a relationship that says ‘we have each other.’ People and tables of food surround them in parkland. The environment is alive. It marks a hopeful stage in the journey through homelessness.
    Pivoting between the hopelessness of a non-existent future and the hopefulness of a future with meaning, the stories impress me with the simplicity of their reporting style. Their directness carries the stamp of truth. I am proud to know these people. I laud the restraint shown in the editorial process and the sensibility and aesthetic awareness of the many who contributed to the wholeness of the book design. I am awed by the scope of human experience within its covers and the support of people that can kindle new life.

Homeless in Kindy

By | The Coast

By Marilyn Sanderson

In 2009, six weeks into the school year, my kindergarten class was in full swing and into an established routine. It was a routine which made a number of assumptions. It assumed that students lived in a home where meals could be prepared; lived in a place which had adequate light to practice the reading of their leveled books and revise their sight words; had access to a bathroom where they could wash to maintain personal hygiene; had laundry facilities and a toilet; had a safe place to play and a bed which allowed for a good night’s sleep free from fear of assault.
    So when Bonnie arrived in week six I was obliged to rethink these assumptions. Bonnie’s mum, Natalie, explained that the family were living in their car and she was finding it difficult to manage.
    ‘I suffer from depression,’ she explained averting her gaze. ‘My husband is a hard worker but he can’t read so well, so, he needs manual work. He has just got a job but we haven’t been able to find a place yet. My two older kids are at high school but they hate it. Kids can be so cruel.’
    I thought of Bonnie’s siblings turning up at school where they were confronted with yet another set of assumptions and expectations. Natalie had done her best to dress Bonnie in the school uniform but the lack of laundry facilities soon became evident. The family was relying on relations to assist them but ‘it is strain to accommodate the five of us’. And so they were obliged to negotiate the logistics of finding shelter each night.
    Bonnie was at once excited and anxious to be starting Kindy but structured literacy activities proved a challenge. She much preferred to play in the home corner where she practiced mothering on the assortment of dolls. Whenever playdough or other craft materials were available Bonnie’s eyes would light up. But it was apparent that she had had little experience in using scissors or pencils.
    As Natalie’s depression deepened, Bonnie’s attendance dwindle. The school had yet to commence its breakfast program which in the following years provided food and fun in a nurturing environment for children from struggling families.
    An economist friend once informed me that the average wage earner was approximately six weeks from bankruptcy if they lose their job. I considered my own situation and thought ‘Yep. Without the support of family and friends that would do it.’