For the last four weeks there has been a homeless man living out of his car outside our next door neighbour’s house. I’m not much of a keen observer at the best of times but I did notice a car that hadn’t moved for some time and I thought it had broken down and it would be a matter of time before the owner had it repaired or towed away. It was only when we had a knock on our door, one of our elderly neighbours (whom we hadn’t spoken to since living in the area for many years), warned us that the car was home to someone who had been living there for the last month.
Now in Melbourne suburbia, this is a rare sight and the mere presence of homelessness in your street is confronting. I’m not disputing that homelessness is not in the suburbs – it is – but when it is directly outside your home, discomfort sets in and for me, a sense of sadness for this young man.
As I work from home during the day, I look out my study window and see various people in our neighbourhood approach him and he gets angry and yells at them. At times I see him wander up and down our streets or walk in the middle of the road. Some days he scatters bread crumbs on our nature strip (which now explains the increase of noisy birds I have seen on our property). People walking their dogs are approached for money and he wanders into people’s front yards and knocks on their doors for money. I have taken to closing my front gate for the first time in years and I varied my routine to ensure that I leave the house when he’s not inside or outside his car in the mornings and early evenings.
And this irks me.
Not the closing the gate, not the locking of doors, not the changing of our routine but that it takes a fellow human being who is obviously in personal turmoil and trouble to cause a reaction of fear and dread in our neighbourhood which brings them together.
This situation has made me realise how isolated we can become in our homes and our neigbourhood so it takes a situation like this to have neighbours actually talk to each other.
Our elderly neighbour motioned for us to come outside and take a look at the homeless man’s car. We walked around it and peered inside it. The car was obviously broken down and a complete mess inside it. Not only was this young man homeless but he was living in squalor. Our neighbour mentioned that he had called the authorities to report it and encouraged us to do the same.
The next afternoon, I called our local council who said that they couldn’t help with the matter and asked me to call a Homeless Outreach service instead. When I called the latter they told me that all I can do is to pass on their information but if the homeless person didn’t want their assistance, they couldn’t do much else. I was in a quandary.
Do I go outside and chat to this young man to tell him about these services – is it my place to do this? Should I do this with someone else and not by myself?
I called the Police and they took the details and saw that the car was registered and he’s a resident in the area. They explained that they know of his situation as many other residents have called but unless the man becomes violent and aggressive, they couldn’t do anything. He has every right to park the car where he wants. They advised us to keep our gates locked and to stay safe.
Over the days, I have seen the authorities from the Council come by to speak to him but he gets angry, finger points and yells back at them.
I feel sad for this young man to be in this situation and at a loss as to what I can do to help. A neighbour gave him cash so that he can seek refuge for a night but that didn’t help.
Last night I sat and wrote a letter to him. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do or not – I have no idea – and explained that our neighbourhood has noticed that we have seen him sleeping rough and would like to help. I provided him with the phone number and address of the Outreach program in the next suburb where he could seek support. This morning, I placed the letter on his windscreen. Let’s see how that goes.
I do hope that his personal situation is resolved soon so that he can sort out his family and health issues.
This whole situation has made me reflect on my thoughts around homelessness and what we can do to help. I don’t doubt that we will be seeing more of this over time with many people struggling to survive loss of jobs, financial stress, mental health and social isolation. Fear or anger is not the answer but I’m also acutely aware that I don’t know our neighbours as well as we could have so that we could share and voice our concern and do something for this man. The spirit of community is missing.
It just goes to show that a neighbourhood is not a community if it only gets together in signs of trouble or fear.