So, recently I became a political activist.
I’m not much into politics. In fact, I think you could say I am probably much like a decent chunk of our Aussie Population…somewhat blasé. I would rather watch toast burn than the latest edition of Q & A on ABC. I know that will totally put some of you off, and maybe you will stop reading now. It’s an important addition to the first sentence in this post however, because I have never marched in a protest, I have never rallied the government for something important, and I have never sent a letter in to a local member of parliament. I have signed petitions! A rather benign way to start ones political involvement at best!
Here’s the thing though. We have this developing situation in my community, and it really bothers me. Homelessness has always bothered me. In the weeks following the flood, it has become apparent that the already nearly impossible rental situation in the Tweed Shire is reaching crisis point. I lived in that rental market up until 2 years ago- I know what it was like. We thought about shifting a few times, but there was just never anything in our price bracket, or when you phoned the real estate agent the property had already gone to someone.
I saw that there was going to be a story on the 7:30 report, so I watched it with my husband. After it finished, I sat there racking my brain, trying to figure out what I could do to help. People are displaced, they have nowhere to go, and their kids are missing school. Sure, I could say here is a meal voucher for your family. Short term solution. I could even say here is some rent money. Again, short term solution. I could not think of a single thing I could actually do to get behind these people and try to make a difference.
Fast forward to 11am on Saturday May 6th, where I am standing with a group of people and feeling super awkward and out of my comfort zone, practising our cries (eyes up, look around, we have a crisis in this town!).
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I went along to a peaceful protest with my youngest son. We chose a sign to carry, and we joined in walking over the bridge and into town through to Knox park.
At the park, I learned a number of startling statistics.
Are you aware that in 2013, around 40% of Tweed Shire households were experiencing rental stress as opposed to only 25% for the rest of NSW? Or that South Murwillumbah (worst affected by the floods) is in the bottom 10% of suburbs state wide for social economic disadvantage, and 1 in 5 children are gorwing up in poverty in our shire, compared to 1 in 8 nationally? How about the fact that pre flood, our rental vacancy was about 1%? You can quite imagine what the flood has done to that figure. The Northern Rivers population is around 4% of NSW, however we have approx. 20% of the states rough sleepers.
Confronting as these statistics might be, the people who are represented by them are even more compelling. They are real, beautiful people caught up in something that is becoming their worst nightmare. Some of the families who have been affected by this flood were most likely just hanging in, week by week getting by as best they could and some of them were probably feeling really stoked to even be in that position. After the flood, these same people are at best displaced, at worst, completely homeless.
Then there are the people who are still living in their rental property after the flood. Living where sewerage went through and watching as mould grows up the walls. You wouldn’t say they are homeless, but they are in desperate need of some solutions.
Life throws stuff at us. We don’t all get the happy ending and the great Australian dream. But life matters! People matter! I for one want to live this moment in history- Bespectacled, fully aware and making a conscious choice to do something. So I went to the rally. I let myself be outside my comfort zone, and yes I was just 1 person (well, we were 2 actually and I reckon my son was yelling louder than me once he realised what we were marching for!), but if everyone who went to the rally thought that, its likely that nobody would have turned up. This post is not intended as a way to say ‘hey look what I did,’ as much as it is being real about the fact that it was new and uncomfortable for me. That discomfort was somehow comforting, because I think this issue needs to make us all uncomfortable.
Where to from here, I don’t know. I do know that there are people here who care about this cause and care about the people behind the statistics. I’m glad about that! Perhaps that is where I will leave this post…open ended. There are more questions than answers right now. I don’t feel like I even have the right words to bring this to a conclusion, but I think that’s the point. There is no conclusion until we can figure out good, fair solutions. I hope this post can at least bring attention once again to this important issue. People are not statistics. They are brown haired and blonde haired, young and old, happy and sad, and in this case, displaced. Worse still, in some cases, people are homeless. May we not forget that as we curl up in our warm beds tonight.