Some weeks it’s hard to navigate the big feelings I have around injustice; the kind of injustice that occurs every day, everywhere, underwritten by the privilege of some at the expense of the many. The shit stuff people get away with! The shit stuff no one notices. Shit stuff always happens to people who don’t have much to start with. I sometimes wonder how you can hear story after story and not realise the system is broken. Capitalism sucks. Let’s go break stuff – like, the dominant paradigm! We haven’t managed to subvert it – so can we smash it into tiny pieces? Please?
Something’s got to give. Every few months I reach peak outrage. It’s all I can do to not just yell at the moon.
A community member contacted me to tell me about the users of a storage facility in Byron Bay being given one week to move their stuff. Apparently the developer has sold apartments on the site that are about to get underway. That’s not much time. Couldn’t people have had a little more warning than one week? The owners must have had a little more warning than that to say the vacate date was approaching? Could it be that they were worried about losing income on rents?
Giving people who have their stuff in storage one week to move it out is cruel.
The reason your stuff is in storage is because a) you don’t have anywhere else to store it, or b) you aren’t here. How in good conscience can you do that to people who you know will struggle to find other options? One woman had kept her market supplies in three sheds there for over 30 years. That’s a very long-term reliance on the facility. Wouldn’t you think it reasonable to get more than one week’s notice to vacate? The logistics alone of all those people making vehicle movements back and forth from that site in one week makes it a very unreasonable request.
I don’t have a storage shed. But I felt the outrage. There is a difference between what you can legally get away with and what is right. I wonder whether, in one of those storage units there is a stash of dusty moral compasses – previously owned by developers and investors who found that unflinching integrity was a barrier to wealth creation. Because it is.
Just ask anyone who owns a house with no one in it. Do they get a tingle of guilt when they see a homeless person? Or is the disconnect part of the deal? Do they have special ‘what homeless person?’ vision. Do they see no relationship between their accumulation of assets and the woman sleeping in a tent?
On the night of the 2021 Census, one million Australian properties were empty. That’s 1/10th of our housing market. That’s because, in this country, some people have extra houses and some people have NO house. Surely it’s clear that a system that allows that to happen is rigged. Who needs ‘extra’ houses? Who needs empty houses? If we have 300,000 homeless people and one million empty houses, and we put those people into the empty houses – don’t we still have 700,000 empty houses left? (Maybe if we can’t live there, we can at least store our stuff there?)
That number fills me with outrage. So many people in our region still don’t have a home. I met a woman the other day who’d lost everything in the floods. She said, ‘My son and I have moved 15 times since March’. I said, ‘Oh god, that’s awful. Do you want me to write about it?’ She said, ‘No, I’m lucky’. That topped up the outrage. She is going back to her flooded and unrepaired house soon because, although it’s not safe, it’s stable. So, she’s ‘lucky’.
Last week, Fiona, a rough sleeper who lived in Byron Bay, died in her tent. I met Fiona many times over the years. I guessed she was my age but our circumstances were vastly different. I am housed, I am socially valued, and I am safe. She was none of those things. Last time we met she was saturated from the rain. I just happened to have a car full of clothes. Extra clothes that I was donating, so we selected some warm dry stuff for her. I saw her over the next few days, dressed like Mandy Nolan. We had a laugh. But it’s not funny. A middle-aged woman shouldn’t have to die alone in a tent.
I saw an ad this morning on Facebook Marketplace:
‘For Sale: Moral Compass. Never used.’
We can do so much better.