The Fireside at Christmas
Published 22 December 2016
When I first came to work at 139 Club, I had never worked in community services. My background was a broad exposure to professional worlds across health, family business, not for profits and large commercial enterprise. Wanting to establish credibility, I turned to the reading material and research on the issues of homelessness. Theoretically it helped, but it left me feeling cold, without conviction. Two years on I have a fire raging in my belly, but it’s not just about homelessness. Homelessness in and of itself is not “a thing”. It’s a symptom. An end result of a range of circumstances and beliefs and experiences that happen to real people. The fire in my belly is because of them, who they are, how they got here and what they face today and in the future.
Someone new to the sector recently remarked to me that they felt they needed to “get their head around the issues in homelessness”! I gave them a piece of advice. Create your own story, your own view and your own dialogue! Come and spend time with us and allow your observational skills to give you the information you need to articulate within yourself a way to tell it, explain it and help others understand. You don’t need textbooks and research and data. You just need to care enough and be curious enough to pay attention and organise your thoughts.
As we come to the close of 2016, I reflect on what a momentous year it has been for me in finding a way to articulate what I have learned from our guests and why they find themselves in the situations they are in. It has been a year of me leaning in with our guests, observing, asking, listening, formulating and understanding. It has been a year where they have allowed me to use my ability to tell stories to help people understand their world.
Last week, the very talented music group “Topology” came to visit with us to run a songwriting workshop. No musical experience was required. No one turned up! So, up they got and down into our courtyard they walked with their instruments. There was a small group milling around. I tested the waters to see how the group felt about Topology playing a little. They were hesitant. So Topology sat a small distance away and started to jam. Five minutes passed and I gauged with our guests their comfort with moving them closer. They agreed.
The next hour was spent jamming, singing, requesting songs, smiling, laughing and connecting. The mood was light. Blessed with a better than average voice but usually crippled with fear about letting people hear it, I found myself singing with Topology loud and proud, for the first time in 15 years. We were all living in the moment, our problems forgotten, our hearts happy and hopeful. Topology cared enough and were curious enough to pay attention, be flexible and allow the experience to unfold even though it didn’t fit the original purpose of them coming here. They are coming back in the new year to bring their musical medicine back to us. We will write a song, just follow a different path to get there. We are all excited.
There is a lot to be grateful for as we head into Christmas. I am grateful for our guests and the time I have spent with them this year. I have truly embraced learning about what makes them tick. That includes those who, on the odd occasion may have cursed at me, or told me I was doing a rubbish job as CEO. I welcome it all. I am grateful for the talented, eclectic and beautiful Board, volunteers, students and staff who I work with. Spending time with them makes me incredibly happy. I admire who they are as people more than they know. On days when I don’t feel strong they give me strength. On days when I am out of ideas they come up with ways out of the woods.
I am grateful for the amazing business partners and supporter groups and individuals who have allowed me to help them understand a side to the world that is generally sanitised and swept away. I am grateful to you, our supporters, for allowing me the opportunity to write for you and share with you my own view of our work and the people we support. So many of you write to me and tell me how my stories make you feel and that helps me to know we are making a difference.
I want to leave you with some final thoughts. When people come here and meet with our guests they often say to me, “I thought I had problems, but I am just going to be grateful for what I have from now on.” I take a different view and don’t encourage people to think like this. There is a point where a person who is homeless believes they need to settle, to accept only what society feels they deserve and to be grateful to be alive despite having nothing and no one. That point may have come early in their life and predetermined a path into marginalisation, or it may have come after life knocked them down many times. The biggest lesson you can learn from us and our work is to believe you deserve the best. If your job doesn’t bring you meaning, work out what does. If your friendships or relationships don’t make you feel loved and honoured, find some that do. If you feel empty, find out how to love yourself and feel complete. Don’t settle and feel you should be grateful for things that don’t make you thrive. Believe! Strive! Our guests want that for you! We want that for everyone!
From all of us at 139 Club, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and look forward to sharing with you again in 2017.