At the launch of Poetic Licence in May, a question popped up from the audience about the amount and kind of research that had to be done for the novel. Prior to that I was asked about my previous novel. In that answer, I told the audience how the central character from my first novel pops up in this one, as a student researching the causes of elder homelessness. I said that I thought her views on the subject were interesting. This is her response when Hunter asks her to tell him about her research:
‘For most I’ve spoken to, it’s not just a lack of shelter. It’s more like snowballing disadvantage. People lose connections, their social resources fray, their personal economy disintegrates, the issues pile up and bury whatever real thing started it.’ (Poetic Licence p. 83)
Later in the conversation, Hunter advises her to get people talking about asylum.
‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘it’s not about loss of shelter. A homeless person isn’t just left out in the cold – they’re running away from what they can’t go back to. Figure that out and your research is done.’ (p. 85)
The appalling political responses to homelessness, he maintains, have much in common with asylum seeking.
Start with an end to homeless invisibleness
Responding to the question about research for the novel, I say that my first step was to ‘walk the streets of Fremantle.’ And that I’d had a conversation with a woman who had been living homeless for a couple of years and her insights about circumstances and power in that situation struck me profoundly. The biggest impact her conversation had was the feeling of invisibleness, and it was this that gave me the idea for Hunter’s homelessness.
Homelessness, as Lavender Jensen points out above, is more than just a lack of shelter. It is the disenfranchisement that accompanies it. Without shelter, it is practically impossible to be counted as ‘anyone’. This disenfranchisement affects health, psychology, access to food and water, employment opportunities, and even down to holding a library card. Ending homelessness means resetting society on multiple fronts.
Invisibleness, while affording Hunter the opportunity to move around undetected in Fremantle, is a socially devastating impact of homelessness that can lead to feelings of despair that come from a lack of belongingness, and loss of friends and social connections. It’s what Lavender Jensen means when she refers to ‘snowballing disadvantages’. Far too many people will walk past a homeless person in a doorway or on the street without so much as a glance, let alone recognition of their circumstances, a conversation, or a contribution to their wellbeing. Invisibleness is the first issue that must be overcome if there is to be any advance toward zero homelessness.
Say g’day to a visibly homeless person
The term ‘invisible homelessness’ in Australia is reserved mainly for women, and usually women with children. An Al Jazeera article points out that far fewer women in Australia are counted among the homeless numbers than the reality. Due mainly to the fact that their circumstances are often because of domestic violence and they have children under their care, they are less likely to use more visible places for support and as a consequence are not counted: thus the ‘invisible’ label.
My term of ‘invisibleness’, however, refers to the notion that even a person who is visibly homeless is still largely ‘invisible’ to the general public. In fact, as Hunter points out in Poetic Licence, his circumstances are predicated on this prejudice ‘to remain hidden in plain sight, confident that any Gordioni would sooner cross the street than look a homeless person in the eye’ (p. 10). This highlights perceptions of homelessness as some kind of ‘blight’, which, as Sig Langegger & Stephen Koester imply, is used by city authorities to point out its negative impacts to the ‘profit potential of prime urban land through real estate speculation and commerce.’
At a recent community meeting in Fremantle on the topic of homelessness, I was moved to challenge this issue of invisibleness, a question best answered by the two homeless men sitting next to me. I asked, ‘How does one begin a conversation with a homeless person?’
‘Start with “g’day”,’ Jarrad suggested. His response then developed into a sense of making a connection without being judgemental. ‘Don’t be afraid to ask about a bloke’s circumstances,’ he added. ‘People can’t always give money, but sometimes just a kind word goes a long way.’
Michael Barker from Fremantle Shipping News, one of the sponsors of the event, told me afterwards that he often spends time with homeless people in the street. If he sees someone on the steps of Wesley Church, for example, he will sit and chat with them for a while. He believes that if people see him doing this, the sense of invisibleness will gradually dissipate. Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of his book.
Support St Pat’s Appeal to reduce homelessness
I’m inviting you to help us support St Pat’s, which features in Poetic Licence as a refuge where we find Hunter on a number of occasions (although it is a very novelistic impression). We will contribute a portion of every copy sold from our online store at www.crotchetquaver.com and from New Edition Books in Fremantle to St Pat’s Everyday Appeal. You get a copy of a great read (don’t just take my word for it – check out some of the reviews using the links below) and you help reduce homelessness. One simple action, two great gifts.
St Patrick’s Community Support Centre (St Pat’s) offers support services to homeless people which includes meals, housing, welfare, health and emergency relief. Their goal is to reduce homelessness to zero. And, together, we can help.
Poetic Licence is an ideal gift for the lover of thrillers, and Christmas, along with end-of-year celebrations are coming up. Purchase this book as a gift and you are in fact giving two gifts. The title has attracted quite a lot of reviews at Goodreads, NetGalley on Amazon, WritingWA and in other media. Click the links above to read what others are saying about this novel.
And then think about joining them.