I notice he has unkempt hair and frequently chats to himself. He is surrounded by an array of people including shoppers, buskers and people waiting at the bus stop. Somehow with all this activity he is not very noticeable aside from his unhygienic state and unusual mannerisms.
Usually a couple of streets back I also see a thin looking man in his forties pacing the streets of town. The first few times I saw this man he looked like a traveller, casually dressed and walking with a purpose. His quick detours into the council bins though soon identified him as a person with particular challenges.
Then over by the Esplanade there's an older man with a long grey beard and barefoot. He has a million dollar view of the Esplanade that he shares with the hundreds of backpackers who mingle close by. Each of these men was once connected to family, work and community. What has happened to cause them to be homeless in paradise?
It could be said that we are all two weeks away from unemployment. For some, without the right financial resources or family support, a financial crisis can lead to the loss of a home and eventually life on the streets.
The national body working to responding to homelessness in Australia identified 1 in every 200 people is homeless and 23% of Australia's homeless are children (www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au). According to the 2006 Census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that the number of people homeless in Australia was 105,000 (www.abs.gov.au).
There are many causes of homelessness which include financial hardship, family breakdown, domestic violence, eviction and mental health illness. For some, homelessness is a choice and the solutions to guide a person back into community can often be ineffective. Regardless of the challenges, we cannot ignore the fact that every person has the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing.
Over the years I have tried to be proactive when I am confronted by homeless people. Most of the times I have felt my efforts to be very unsuccessful. A recent example of this was when I decided to purchase a food voucher from Woolworths to give away. I made sure it was always in my wallet for the next opportunity I saw someone who needed it.
Upon parking my car in town one day I saw the familiar thin man briskly walking down the street, again looking in bins along the way. I politely stopped him and offered him the voucher. At this point I was really pleased to see him and be able to offer something rather than ignoring the obvious need. However, for reasons I do not know he kindly declined and continued on his way.
Despite the challenges of dealing with homelessness, it's important to be informed and respond where appropriate. "People who are homeless are not merely objects of charity, seeking help and compassion. Like all Australians, they are individuals entitled to protection and promotion of their human rights" (www.hreoc.gov.au).
In Matthew 25:35 Jesus says "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you game me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."