Malcs gave $5 to a beggar on the street in Melbourne this week. The opinions on whether this was a good and virtuous thing to do will vary.
Mr.Turnbull knows the cameras are always on, and there may well have been a cynical part of him that sought to gain from this small gesture of what he hoped would be perceived as altruism. When we are watched, our actions are not pure and honest, they are marred by the complexity of an awareness of our audience. Not much to gain from the vox populi by being seen giving a homeless guy $5 though is there? Especially as our financially astute leader was holding the larger portion of the wad in his other hand. But Jesus haven’t we all been there? Granted, most of us are looking through our change purses for a suitably generous (but not too generous!) donation, and not holding the GDP of a small third world nation in our mitts.
The problem here is that the Lord Mayor of Melbourne does not support, and advises quite specifically against, giving money to beggars. He suggests instead that you make your donation to one of the charities engaged in providing services to the homeless. He advises that giving money to beggars entrenches homelessness, and that your pocket change will probably be spent on drugs and alcohol (oh, you mean what most of us spend our money on?).
The Lord Mayor suggests that “.. in our city, you can always get a good free meal and, usually, a bed if you need one”.
Here’s where we disagree Lord Mayor. I have a bit of experience in this field having worked for more than 10 years in one of Australia’s largest charitable providers of homeless services. This organisation, along with the Salvos et al are absolutely overwhelmed with the enormity of the task before them. Homelessness Australia states that there are currently 105,237 people in Australia who are homeless. That’s a big deal. There are only so many beds in the homeless shelters, and while there are plenty of incredible people providing incredible services, including the “good free meal” the Lord Mayor speaks of, there will always be those that fall through the gaps.
In defence of his action (which is an odd position for someone making a donation to be in if you ask me), Mr. Turnbull used the phrase “There for the grace of God go I (sic)”. I don’t believe there is a God, let alone one who bestows grace on one human and not on another, but I do believe in the sentiment behind those words, and I support Malcolm’s use of this phrase, because working for a homeless charity teaches you exactly this. The pathways to homelessness are many and varied, and it truly can happen to anyone. We are all an unexpected illness, tragic accident, failed business venture or natural disaster away from needing assistance with shelter and this is a truth that should be acknowledged by us all in our happy little ‘lucky country’ bubbles.
I think the Lord Mayor is right in recommending that people donate to charities whose focus it is to relieve homelessness holistically and on a larger scale than the individual. I also would ask Malcolm to look closely at the bills and recommendations put before him to act on homelessness more than his government currently does. It is not doing enough by a very long way.
After the release of the 2016 budget, Glenda Stevens, CEO of Homelessness Australia said, “This budget was an opportunity for the government to say that they DO care for all Australians, whether they are young or old, families or single, wealthy or poor”
What’s the plan Malcs? I know there aren’t a lot of beggars in Point Piper, apart from young people begging their mums to be allowed to borrow the BMW, but this is happening on your watch, and its time to get involved. In the meantime, if you want to give a guy $5, I’m ok with that. Just make sure you give what’s in your left hand to a homeless services charity.