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Maria Tedeschi learns a valuable lesson about the homeless from her son Christian – that anyone can help, even a nine-year-old. #OutoftheHeartsofBabes
What can I tell you about the homeless that you don’t already know?
On any given night, around 105,000 Australians will be homeless. About 6% sleep rough on the streets. The others have a roof over their head, but accommodation is temporary (boarding houses, refuges, someone’s couch) and it’s not always safe and secure.
It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, male or female, educated or not; homelessness can strike anyone. Causes include loss of employment (or underemployment), mental illness, health issues, domestic violence, divorce, intergenerational poverty and addiction (gambling, alcohol, drugs) just to name a few.
We know all this, but how many of us are compelled to tackle homelessness? It’s not uncommon to feel paralysed by the enormity of the situation and statistics alone don’t compel us to act.
So let me tell you a story about my 9-year-old son, Christian. Christian is one of the most empathetic compassionate souls you will ever meet. I’m not boasting because he’s my son; I’m telling you this because he puts me to shame.
Christian wants to help the poor and the homeless. He will bug me for coins whenever we pass a homeless person on the street and makes a point of remembering the people and the street corners they generally call home.
He views the world through nine-year-old eyes. Ask him why he wants to help the homeless and he’ll tell you that he feels sad when he sees someone hungry. He feels sad when a storm hits and there is no shelter. He feels sad when people just walk past and no-one helps. It’s not a complicated answer and he isn’t driven by statistics. He’s driven by the look on the faces of those who beg.
Simply, if someone needs help, you help the best way you can. Isn’t that what we always try to teach our kids?
He isn’t bogged down by the complexity that surrounds homelessness. He figures there are some smart people out there trying to fix the situation. Though it does puzzle him, with all the hotels in the city, why hoteliers can’t offer their vacant rooms to the homeless for the night.
Kids have a way of holding you to account like that.
Now funding and running a shelter is way beyond my skill set, but I am not without some means to do something and that’s all Christian was asking of me.
“I want to start a charity and give care packages to the homeless. I want to call it Christian’s Community Fund,” he announced.
He fashioned together a coin box for siblings and visitors to donate some money and holds weekly family meetings where the agenda is to think of ways to help and share anything we have learnt.
It was at this point that I too needed to look at the world through 9-year-old eyes. Let’s just do this. So one weekend we went out and handed out 6 care packages.
We started a Facebook page for Christian’s Community Fund and shared stories of the people we met that day. We asked our friends to send socks, underwear, t-shirts, toiletries or gift cards so we could make 30 care packages to hand out in time for Christmas.
The story of this 9-year-old boy compelled plenty of people to act and the donations came in. “What a remarkable young boy you are Christian,” was a common remark. “It’s amazing that a 9-year-old boy is so driven by social justice,” was another.
Three of Christian’s classmates bowled me up at school proclaiming their desire to be involved. One of the parents confessed that her daughter has always wanted to do something but didn’t know how to help her daughter get involved. Understandably, most established charities have a minimum age requirement for volunteers.
Some have asked me the merit of exposing my 9-year-old son to the unpredictable nature of dealing with homeless people. They could be drunk, they could be high, or they could be violent and sometimes they look intimidating.
All of that is true. I’ll let Christian finish off by telling you what else is true.
“All the people we have met have been thankful for our care packages and very friendly. It makes me feel happy when we give the care packages because giving makes me feel good. I like to help. The homeless people are happy that we talked to them and we could help them a little bit. They are people just like us, so we should treat them they way we treat other people. If a famous person came to your house, how would you treat them? You should treat homeless people the way you would treat a famous person. “