Of all the places!

Robert Allfree


Issue 5
February 1999

Looking for something worth while and challenging this Christmas, I found myself volunteering to help out at the Quiet Shelter with Crisis. Having had very little contact with the homeless community, I have to admit that as the twentythird approached, there was more than a little fear that this would be too challenging. However the fears were unfounded and I worked all eight shifts as requested without any problem. The experience has been truly remarkable, although also totally unrelateable.

The guests were a fascinating group of people. There were many long and deep conversations to be enjoyed while standing at a position "on duty". From a gender perspective, I found it interesting that five or six male volunteers were mistaken for female. I did not really mind how the guests, or anyone else perceived me as it does not alter my position with myself. I know where I am at, and that is all that needs to concern me, although the question of what constitutes male from female is raised in a different context. The men who had been mistaken were not in my eyes even remotely ambiguous, none of the volunteers made the same mistake, so what is it that differentiates the gender in a world that operates outside mainstream society? Why were no females mistaken for men, after all, we were all wearing clothes that could quite easily fall in to the male domain.

Maybe the problem lies more with mainstream society than the homeless. Maybe it is us who are too ready to judge on a superficial level the essence of another. Why does a leather briefcase speak louder than a handbag. Am I the only one who looks at a pinstriped suit and wonders if he is as important in reality as he seems to think in his mind. In the homeless community at Crisis, all the volunteers are seen as equal, regardless of sex, race or haircut. It was the first time that I have experienced managing directors working with as much significance as their unemployed counterpart. As far as the guests were concerned we were of value, and they were grateful for each of us being there.

The homeless have got it right. Many of them have consciously left mainstream society to be free to live their own lives in their own way. What they value and respect, is not the superficial issues such as clothes or gender, but the fundamental essence that flows deep within each individual. Perhaps that explains the mistakes as to the mere details, such as man or woman.

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