Today I am attending a fundraising lunch to support the work of The Big Issue in South Australia ,and organisation that in my opinion, helps homeless people become whole again.
One of their mottos is “A hand up, not a hand out“, which I love, as so often the organisations who support the homeless simply give out handouts, and then wonder why the same people keep coming back.
I have an older friend who has been volunteering for a church organisation for over 60 years and who makes this comment many times; she regularly asks why her charity does not actively support people to be more proactive about getting out of their situation, instead of just giving away goods or vouchers. It is important we help people out of their situation, if that is their wish, and The Big Issue is one organisation who is, I feel, successfully doing that.
And so, following on with the theme of homelessness, then re-reading one of previous my blogs about the homeless, and since be-friending a delightful homeless women on twitter (@kathhomeless), I have decided to share a time in my life that most of my family and friends do not know about. The bones of this blog have been sitting in the drafts folder for ages, so here goes, I’ve decided to be brave and share it!
Homelessness is not usually a choice, but occasionally it has to be… and it almost was for me.
At one stage of my own life, my very young son and I would have had to surf couch, or live on the streets or in a women’s shelter if I had chosen to leave a partner who was emotionally and financially abusive, and who worked hard (very successfully) to isolate me from almost all of my close family and friends.
Homelessness is not always as a result of mental illness, abuse, or drugs and/or alcohol, but a place that many people sometimes simply end up at, for no definitive reason, and very often through no fault of their own.
These types of abuse are not visible to others, and are not something talk about as you feel very ashamed of yourself for putting up with it. Then, almost never not if, but when, you accept the pleas for forgiveness the first time, you somehow end up on a treadmill of life being ok for a while, followed by more abuse, wretchedness, and the eventual begging for forgiveness, and then forgiveness. Being homeless was a terrifying thought as my child was very young, and at the ‘insistence’ of his father I had given up work and I therefore had no income. I learnt how easy it is to put up with abuse rather than live on the streets. Some time later when I eventually found the emotional strength to leave, I overheard him saying to his lawyer, “I want her penniless, homeless, childless and in the gutter”, and he actively tried to prove I was an unfit mother in a court of law. He almost achieved these goals, and I was certainly almost penniless for some time, having to survive on some days by selling things to find the money to feed my young son. One could say I was lucky to have anything to sell (the microwave, TV and CD player went first), but I survived, and it definitely made me much stronger emotionally and much more resilient, in part preparation, one might say, for dementia.
This time in my life was kept hidden from almost everyone, as I felt so ashamed and vulnerable that some days I felt as if I could barely breathe. I ended up being helped in a Women’s Centre in North Adelaide, one that specialised in domestic violence, and I was the ninth wife of this particular group of men that year who had been supported through domestic violence. Sadly, if you don’t get abused physically, it is hard to accept that the scars and abuse caused by emotional or financial, rather than physical violence, is real.
Most others, if they cannot see bruises or broken bones, do not believe it happens. When I face the reality of my own life, and loo in the mirror honestly, I have to accept that I also experienced emotional and occasional physical abuse in my childhood, and so was already used to accepting it, and it is really hard to break the cycle of acceptance, and of believing you do not have to put up with it.
Facing and accepting the harshness and reality of an abusive experience or relationship is not easy, especially when it has come from people whom you love, and who claim they love you.
I learnt first hand, women are not weak or stupid when they do this, they are more likely desperately trying to keep a home for their children. I’ve learnt that many women, and some men, simply put up with being abused sometimes for many years simply for the sake of their children or in some way to maintain their ego (my marriage is fine???), or because they love themselves so little they somehow think they deserve it.
This was certainly my experience, and it was not until many years later I felt like a whole human being again. Thankfully, I am one of the lucky ones, now in a wonderful, equitable and loving relationship with my BUB.
Everyone has a story, and many more than one… This is one of mine, and perhaps today, which is the 5th birthday of the Big Lunch I have been involved in, is the right time for me to ‘come out’ about homelessness, and how easily it can happen, to almost anyone.
But many never make it out of the abusive relationship, or off of the treadmill of homelessness.