Why you should take good advice from wherever it comes
I turn and look at the tramp in case I know him from the winter homeless shelter where we help out and he would be offended if I didn’t say hello. I am suited and booted — navy blue suit with mauve pinstripe, crisp white shirt, pale blue silk tie, a bit like I am dressed in this story, I think it’s even the same tie:
As usual, I am late, so eating a cheese and ham toastie that I made as I walked out the door, from some foil in my hand.
I give him a confused look, over the top of my toastie.
He shouts again.
He is on crutches, and looks quite forlorn, standing there.
I thought he may have been asking for some toastie. Unusually, for me, I would have happily shared with him because I was a bit full and the toastie was a bit disappointing. But the “colour up” thing was really confusing me.
He stops walking and takes his hands off the crutches to motion to his neck.
Your collar — it’s up. Your collar is up!
I walked on, fixing the collar of my coat — it had rolled up at the back, not in the fashion of a rakishly popped collar, but the unfashion of a wonky collar.
I am a man who takes clothing advice from tramps.
Update: It gets worse!
A couple of years later I was working from home and popped up the road to collect some lunch and buy some vegetables.
I pulled up directly in front of Thai Terrific (OK food, good lunch specials, not worth a detour), music throbbing elegantly from the Harmon Kardon speakers in my imported European SUV. I couldn’t let such a hero parking spot go to waste, so decided to order lunch there.
I ordered my food then crossed the road to walk to Harris Farm Market (a bit like wholefoods, for US readers) while my food was prepared. Directly across the road from Thai Terrific is the Wayside Chapel, a wonderful place that provides a place to go for people who have nowhere else. Outside Wayside, a woman handed me a card and said,
We’re doing a clothing giveaway at Rough Edges, if you need it. Just pop in on Saturday or Sunday — there will be new clothes, lots of shoes, socks and underwear, and a free lunch.
I looked down at the card in my hand. Rough Edges, another stop on the homeless person’s map of inner Sydney, hosting Rough Threads, a charity dedicated to providing clothing to homeless and disadvantaged people around Sydney.
I know from experience working with people who are homeless that clothing — especially shoes and clean underwear — is important when you’re living rough. You don’t always have money for, or access to, a public laundry, and you have limited capacity to carry clothes. So you carry maybe one or two fresh shirts, underwear and socks, and try to swap them over as often as you can. Shoes are important too, because you spend a lot of time walking when you’re homeless. Always walking.
I had been mistaken for a homeless person.
A further update: things turn around
A few years after being mistaken for a homeless person, I was looking through applications for a job we were offering at St Canice’s Kitchen when an application came up from Carrie, founder of Rough Threads — the woman who handed me the card outside Wayside.
Yes, of course, we hired her.
She’s there now, ensuring that the volunteers keep pumping out the 50,000 meals we provide to local homeless and disadvantaged people every year.
(I just saw that St Canice’s is running an emergency COVID-19 fundraising appeal. There are few better things you could do with the next two minutes than click this link and make a donation.)
Copyright © Damian Clarke, 2020. The first part of this story was published in the Our Albion blog on 26 September, 2007.