COVID-19, a mighty cataclysm that has brought the world’s most powerful cities to their knees, shut down economies and halted the hustle and bustle of modern life has also softened people’s hearts like nothing else in living history.
Social media, once the stomping ground of trolls and anonymous keyboard warriors, is now flooded with groups of people reaching out to support one another through unprecedented hardship.
Governments, once rigid in their pursuit of taxes, utility companies steadfast in their commitment to rising tariffs, banks hell bent on posting record profits, have all taken a step back, surrendering to uncertainty and apparently, altruism.
Shopping centres once swamped with seething hoards of punters fuelled by the pursuit of consumer frenzy are still. Credit cards retreat in wallets, drawn out only for weekly essentials- and even then only when the shelves are stocked. Otherwise, making do is good enough.
People draw rainbows on boundary walls, footpaths and even atop the now languid roads; sending messages of love, unity and hope to weary and otherwise isolated neighbours.
Strangers offer unconditional support to the vulnerable, storming Foodbank with donations, turning up at hospitals with supplies for fatigued workers. Discretional spending now drops in the coffers of community groups collecting money for coffee for frontline workers.
VIPs welcomed into Perth Hotel
And when 19 homeless West Australians finally had the chance to lay their heads on a soft, clean pillow in the safety and comfort of emptied hotel rooms, there was none of the anticipated heckling or jeering from the crowds.
Instead, there was an outpouring of empathy. The manager of the hotel even wholeheartedly referred to them as VIPs. If you listened hard enough there was a round of applause.
COVID 19 is an unimaginable, horrific disaster. But it’s terrifying tentacles have leveled the playing field. No one is immune, no wealth can protect, no influence can guarantee a berth with a ventilator, no VIP status a shroud. Even Downing Street has succumbed.
And there is no better time than during this social conscience epiphany of tsunamic proportions, to build the bridges needed to ensure the wellbeing, both present and future, of this state’s most underprivileged. Those who didn’t land a hotel room. The 20,000 vulnerable people including rough sleepers and homeless who night after night stare down the face of uncertainty and hopelessness, pandemic or not.
And it’s not just about providing certainty for those who consider that prospect a privilege. It’s about stemming the spread of this vile disease and thereby protecting those who do have a roof over their head.
It’s about extending the hand of help to the community workers who support our homeless people, providing them with the appropriate equipment needed to protect themselves when they’re working on the frontline.
It’s about providing the resources to help move our homeless and vulnerable into safe accommodation. Because even if housing is found, we need a way to get people there.
Above all else, it’s about continuing to treat each other with love and finally acknowledging that ill fortune can strike any of us at any time through absolutely no fault of our own. But knowing that if it and when it does, we can count on each other, our neighbours, strangers and decision makers and influencers to extend a helping hand.
Because we are in this life together and the only way we will find a way forward, is by supporting one another. Virus or not.
Kathleen Gregory – Chairperson Shelter WA
Featured in The West Australian – 13.04.2020