‘People look at rough sleepers like they are not motivated. I see their resilience to survive. It is inspiring’
Aaron Williams could only imagine what it must be like to be homeless and sleep rough every night.
But in the few months since he became a case manager for the charity home, his eyes have been “well and truly opened” to the hardships that the homeless face.
Mr Williams is devoted to working with clients to assist and support them in gaining access to needed medical, behavioural health, housing, employment, social, educational, and other services essential to meeting basic human needs.
Much of his work to date has been with rough sleepers, working to build trust-based relationships and to support the provision of critical care.
Mr Williams said that, without the comfort of a bed and the security of a locked door at night, homeless people found it difficult to sleep. They are exposed to the elements and under the ever-present threat of violence. Sleep is a luxury they cannot afford.
Mr Williams said: “They must always be mindful of their personal safety. Some remain secure in their group while others keep walking.”
He added that they are often the victims of theft, verbal abuse, and violence, while the few possessions that they have are regularly thrown away.
He said: “Every night rough sleepers are at the mercy of mother nature, who makes it impossible to get a good night's sleep in hot and humid temperatures, sudden temperature drops, or when the heavy rain falls. When the rain finally stops, they are left wet and cold.”
At sunrise, the homeless are faced with the challenge of preparing themselves for the day – without basic facilities such as running water.
Mr Williams said: “After having perhaps two consecutive hours of sleep on any given night, rough sleepers have the impossible task of getting themselves cleaned with no running water, hiding their belongings, and greeting morning traffic, hoping someone – anyone – will hire them.
“There is so much dignity in one's ability to sleep in their own bed, take a hot shower, eat a warm breakfast, have clean undergarments, and select an outfit to wear to work. Now, imagine having none of that, day after day, for more than 30 years.
“Rough sleepers have no access to bathrooms or showers. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and having nowhere to relieve yourself, no toilet paper? There is no dignity in being forced to use the bathroom under a park tree.
“Rough sleepers do not take pride in this experience and yet people can be quick to criticise them for using the only resource they have – nature.”
Mr Williams said that the rough sleepers he had got to know were determined to hustle to earn a few dollars to avoid the indignity of having to beg.
He said: “They try every single day. There is no sleeping late. No, ‘I feel sick, so I am going to lay in’. If a rough sleeper does not get up, that rough sleeper does not eat.
“People look at rough sleepers like they are not motivated. I see their resilience to survive, to hustle. It is inspiring.”
Despite their material disadvantages, Mr Williams said that his homeless clients had a wealth of humour, love, respect and generosity for others.
“They have big personalities, and they are considerate,” he said.
“They have the most creative nick names and great stories to go with them. They love each other. They are respectful and generous. There is an awesome brotherly love between them. They argue, confront, and protect each other.
“Every night they make sure everyone has been fed. There is a roll call before they go to bed to make sure everyone is there. They know when someone is missing, and they go looking for them. They share their resources and their jokes. Their smiles are beautiful.”