There are numerous groups working to assist the homeless in Sydney. Most nights you can find a food van behind St. Mary’s Cathedral or in Wentworth Park. There’s people who beg on the streets daily and others sleeping rough in doorways or alleys, all dependent on the compassion of those more fortunate for a meal each day. Australian Muslim Youth (AMY) are one group trying to address the needs of Sydney’s less fortunate. Comprised of approximately thirty young men and women, AMY are on a mission to prove that they are no different to the majority of Australians. I wrote recently about their efforts to offer companionship and a meal to the homeless living in Wentworth Park, but AMY also visit those living on the streets in other parts of Sydney, including Central Station. They find that more than the food, it is the company and friendship that feeds the souls of the homeless as much as the breads and meats that reach their bellies. These men and women offer the people they meet on their regular rounds of Sydney simple companionship over a cup of tea and a bite to eat. They speak to those who are shunned by most of the rest of society – shunned except for at Christmas.
During my brief time with the AMY crowd, one of the homeless men made the comment that at this time of year the average person is quite generous. There’s no shortage of food for them and it seems that for a short period, life is a little more comfortable. The unspoken suggestion was of the much leaner times for the rest of the year. It is a comment echoed by Tristan Griffiths of All Things Sydney, who indicated that some areas were over serviced with food by charity groups on certain days, whilst in others there would be a dearth of offerings. The lack of coordination between the various groups makes one wonder why there is not a body designated to take control of this situation and ensure a more even spread of food.
AMY are not one hit wonders when it comes to feeding the homeless. The group, formed after the Hyde Park Riots in 2012 wanted to give something back to Sydney. They want to be the literal demonstration of the positives of Islam. They have been offering a meal to Sydney’s homeless on a regular basis for much of 2014. They also offer bottles of water and roses to passers by on a periodic basis, in an effort to demonstrate kindness and break down walls between themselves and people of other cultural heritages. In feeding the poor, the youth of AMY demonstrate their adherence to zakat, one of the Five Pillars of Islam that requires charity of all financially stable adults. The charity may be in kind – if a person has monetary wealth, they should make a financial contribution; however, if they have only limited money, they may offer of their time, energy and kindness to those less fortunate. But perhaps more importantly, these young people are building with the local community in these simple acts of kindness by giving back to the very community that has supported them, from whom they themselves take. Returning the wealth to share with the local community is a central premise of zakat and underscores the true value of Islam in building any community. All the men and women who spend time with Sydney’s homeless are giving of themselves and are genuinely happy to be sharing what they have with others.
AMY are just one group, providing a little peace and comfort to the needy. They do so without any government support – it all comes from within their own community. Their acts of generosity cost our society nothing, but give much back. More than the ham-fisted offerings of our current Abbott-led Commonwealth Government who cut $21 million worth of funding of from organizations who advocate for the homeless just two days before Christmas. Such a lack of charity from the national leadership, led by a man who entered the seminary but found the church to be wanting seems to underscore the comment by one his early advisees that he would be more suited to politics than the priesthood.
Bakchos and I recently attended the funeral of Simon Turnbull, a longtime supporter of this blog and old staunch friend of Bakchos. At the funeral one of the mourners mentioned in passing that Simon had assisted him not only in providing a job, but in allowing him and many other homeless people to sleep on the work premises when they had no place to call home. The upshot, is that many of these people are now earning an income and in the case of the mourner, successfully running his own business. This goes to prove that a little bit of compassion and understanding goes a long way toward assisting people to get back on their feet.
There is no ignoring that the incumbent Federal Government is focused upon forcing us all to be self sufficient; but the “lifters and leaners” of our society are being pushed further apart by the miserly attitude toward those with little. It’s the cuts to tertiary education, from which the majority of currently serving ministers and senators would have benefited in the past 40 years; the cuts to homeless groups; the refusal to support Australian industry, culminating in Ford packing up its factories, due to leave the our shores by 2017. The cannery SPC only barely survived on support from the Victorian Government, before a five year contract with Woolworths assured that production for the next five years would see employment continue. Whilst SPC struck a deal to preserve it’s operations, absolutely none of the credit for building up individuals, regional communities or local industry can be given to the Abbott government.
For all its Christmas belt-tightening, Ebenezer Scrooge would have viewed the current coalition government with only a modicum of approval. Having made cuts to the funding for those most in need both locally and afar, there seems to be no lack of funds when it comes to Defence:
“The lack of outcry that more than 30 per cent of Joe’s budget savings have come from 1.2 per cent of the budget is quite shocking to me.”
Tim Costello, World Vision, December 2014.
Notably, Britain’s David Cameron is honouring a pledge to increase foreign aid by 0.7% of gross national income in 2016-17; by contrast, the Abbott Government will slash Australia’s foreign aid by 0.22%, which will certainly see Australia drop well below the top 10 contributors when compared against other OECD members. Yet, there is no lack of funding when it comes to Defence, including military operations in the Middle East and efforts that focus upon national security. Other nations that suffered much more severely from the Global Financial Crisis in the past several years, Britain being just one, are proving that they can and will continue to support the most vulnerable in our world through maintaining or increasing their aid. There are no excuses being made by them about budget blow-outs to justify taking away from those who already have little.
It makes the average person wonder about the motivations of those we elect. Are they serving the populace? Do they have a care for those in need? The impression is very much of a government that looks down its noses at the destitute and lost, admonishing them for falling or being born into hardship. It is really reason enough to see this coalition government turned on its head at the next election – sooner if legislatively possible. The problem however, is who is there to replace Abbott and his ilk? The Labor Party offers no viable alternatives in either leadership or policy and the Greens, Palmer United Party and independents have all proved themselves to be a band of misfits who cannot work together to bring either side of politics to create genuine alternatives in the debate about ending disadvantage.
It is left to the populace itself to help those most severely affected by the apathy of affluence that infects our leaders. And among them are those that the media and even the Minister for Immigration seek to demonize, such as Muslim youth. It is pitiful that in the midst of the peak holiday observed by the majority of Australians and represented by our elected representatives, there is greater solace and peace among those who have immigrated to these shores, helping others celebrate on a feast that they do not observe. A government cuts funding to the poor, whilst Muslims feed and build friendships with the homeless. Who are truly the ones to distrust?