There’s still no room at the Inn


IN the mad­ness that is Christ­mas, the first week­end of De­cem­ber found me in three dif­fer­ent ci­ties go­ing to three dif­fer­ent events, meet­ing up with three dif­fer­ent friends. Yet uni­form to all three places on all three nights on this one is­land was my walk home; each night I passed a home­less per­son sleep­ing in a door­way.

When­ever I en­counter the home­less, my mind takes over my eyes. The im­pulse is to keep walk­ing, to avert my gaze, to ac­cel­er­ate my pace and to ad­here to my in­ter­nal rhetoric; I don’t have time, I don’t have change and I can’t al­ter their sit­u­a­tion. So I ig­nore a scene that should never be ig­nored.

In­vari­ably how­ever a few paces fur­ther, the ghost of a face in­vades me, their des­o­la­tion as­sails me and the age-old de­bate be­gins be­tween my conscience and free will. My conscience tells me to turn back, to throw a few coins in the cup and start a con­ver­sa­tion. My free will in all its ar­ro­gance be­rates me and as­sures me I have ev­ery right to walk the streets with­out guilt. Some­times my conscience wins out, other times it’s my free will. At no time how­ever do I feel com­fort­able and what­ever ac­tion I take, I am al­ways ask­ing ques­tions.

In stop­ping to talk, am I merely try­ing to quell my dis­com­fort and in pro­ceed­ing am I be­ing in­dif­fer­ent to an open wound? In light of the va­ri­ety of la­bels at­tached to the home­less i.e. ad­dic­tion, men­tal ill­ness, vic­tims of abu­sive child­hoods etc., it is ironic then how we as­sume they will sur­vive on a mere card­board box, their sin­gu­lar de­fence against the el­e­ments.

Yet home­less­ness ex­tends beyond the stereo-typ­i­cal scene we wit­ness late at night. It is easy not to no­tice and eas­ier still to ig­nore the day­time wan­der­ings of a woman and her chil­dren through face­less city streets, wait­ing for night to come to re­turn to a bed that is not their own un­der a roof that houses no home.

Now that its Christ­mas­time, never is “home” more cel­e­brated. Com­ing “home” for Christ­mas is in our con­ver­sa­tions, our songs and our sen­ti­ments. We dec­o­rate houses, light fires and gather around din­ner ta­bles. Its ironic then that after a boom that went bust there is a raft of va­cant houses stand­ing idle at a time when there has never been more peo­ple or fam­i­lies look­ing to fill them.

Christ­mas has long since evolved from its mod­est begin­nings and has come to means lots of dif­fer­ent things to lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

Still, ev­ery year the school Christ­mas con­cert high­lights the gen­e­sis of Christ­mas, be­gin­ning as it does with a home­less fam­ily wan­der­ing across the face of a strange place on a cold night.

In our count­less re-en­act­ments of the tra­di­tional story, we roll out the inn-keep­ers, vil­lainise their ap­a­thy and em­pathise with a fam­ily aban­doned. Strange then that 2000 years later - there is still no room at the Inn.

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