real life

People sleeping on the streets share the small, unnoticed gestures that made a difference for them.

Homelessness is a growing problem across Australia and it has many different faces.

It’s the woman who can’t return home after work because she’s afraid her drunk husband will beat her; the wide-eyed man unable to save money on account of the voices in his head.

It’s the 40-year-old drug addict and it’s the 12-year-old victim of a family breakdown: a dad who ran away, a mum who committed suicide.

You can help homeless Australians by sponsoring Mamamia in the 2017 Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Click here.

On 2011 Census night (the most recent one, considering last year’s debacle) 105,237 Australians were without a home. But this doesn’t mean what you think it does.

Image via Getty.

Of those 105,237 human beings, 6% spent their night on the street.  6% of people were desperate to the point of braving an entire evening on the footpath; in a park; in the sheltered, but locked vestibule of a closed department store.

It may sound like "only" 6%. But that's still 6,314 people.

But what about the rest? The other 96% of homeless Australians?

Well, they spent their night all over the place. 39% were in 'severely crowded dwellings' - residences whereby four or more extra bedrooms would be required to accommodate the total number of people sleeping there.

20% stayed in supported accommodation for the homeless. Charities offering shelter and beds and home-cooked meals to homeless Australians of all ages.

The group at greatest risk of becoming homeless is women over the age of 55. Image via Getty.

Of those 105,237, 45% were women. The group at greatest risk of becoming homeless is women over the age of 55.

Reading these stats is confronting. Not because the numbers are so large (although they are), but more so because the issue is such a broad one.

The confronting nature of the homeless epidemic lies in the fact we are presented with a problem, but no quick-fix solution. It's not 'give money to this charity'; 'volunteer for this association'.

The powers fighting homelessness differ between states. Heck, they differ between suburbs.

We're not sure whether we can best help by throwing our money at the problem, or our time. We're not sure if we should dump our old clothes in Smith Family bins or whether we should buy new ones. We're not sure which charities are deserving of our donations and which are trying to profit off them.

One of the hardest things to teach children is how important it is to give back. Rebecca Sparrow discusses the best ways to do so with Robin Bailey, on The Well. Post continues after audio. 

We're not sure exactly how to make the difference we intend to. Homelessness is a big issue. I couldn't possibly fix it.

Well, yes... you can't 'fix' homelessness by donating your child's second-hand toys. You can't solve a nation-wide epidemic with a hundred dollar note or a few pairs of old tracksuit pants.

But you sure as hell can make a noticeable difference. Whether it's time you choose to give... whether it's money or food or a pair of socks or a smile to the homeless woman you pass on the street, you can make the day better for that single person. 

Psychologically, part of the powerlessness we feel when it comes to helping the homeless is that we never really see the difference we make. We never see where our donations go: the smiling face; the full tummy; the cosy head.

There is a way to combat that... to help us feel we really can make a difference.


Former homeless individuals shared on Reddit the various things they were given by passers-by that helped them the most.

One user appreciated a pair of warm, wooly socks. For another, the thing that made a difference was a second-hand sleeping bag. One valued a home-cooked meal.

Image via Getty.

For one former-homeless individual, all it took to change their day was a smile: "Treat them like people. A little compassion goes a long way."

When we give a pair of wooly socks; when we package and deliver our dinner leftovers, or even when we smile in passing... we see the difference we're making. Homelessness ceases to be an intangible issue. Homelessness ceases to be a statistic.

It becomes a face. It becomes a living, breathing individual. With problems. With needs.

And when you can see the life that you're changing? It makes helping just that little bit better.

Every year, charity St Vincent de Paul holds the Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise awareness and funds for homelessness. CEOs and managers from companies around Australia spend a night sleeping outside on only piece of cardboard, in the middle of Winter. No phones. Little food. 

Last year, the event raised enough money to provide 1.6 million hot meals, and 690,000 bed nights for homeless people around Australia. 

The 2017 CEO Sleepout takes place tonight, Thursday 22nd June, 2017. Six members of the Mamamia leadership team will be taking part, alongside participants from thousands of other companies around Australia.

You can sponsor Mamamia's team in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, and see which members of our team will be spending the night out in the cold, here. Every single dollar raised helps homeless Australians.