this week – putting advent hope into context

We’ve been talking over the last few months about some options for sourcing accommodation for people leaving prisons. Housing is one of the top three factors that prevents recidivism, so it’s become one of our big policy areas. We’ve come up with ideas about prioritising ex-prisoners as tenants in manses, and a few other things.

About six weeks ago, i came home from a meeting about just that topic to discover that i had new neighbours. they moved into an apartment upstairs and across from me that used to be home to some goths who were fabulous neighbours, but who were stalked by some fundamentalist christians who used to leave typed anonymous letters about hell and damnation in their letterbox. That’s a whole other post in itself…

So the new neighbours moved in – E and J, we’ll call them. They’re part of a transitional program which gets people off the streets and into apartments. The program offers caseworkers and support systems – it was lauded in the media this week, and i think it’s fabulous.

It was probably about three days in that the arguments started. There would be shouting and screaming, which would begin around 4 or 5 in the morning – every morning – and last for a couple of hours, normally until one of the caseworkers would arrive and sort things out. Their arguments could be heard down the end of the street. It was pretty awful. After a couple of weeks E and J wrote lovely letters and cards to each of us in the apartment block, apologising for their behaviour and talking about how hard it was to move into an apartment after being on the streets. It was a lovely gesture. I wrote one back saying that I hoped things would work out for them.

Last weekend it got uglier, the violence went to a whole new level. There was no shouting or screaming, just the sound of fist on flesh, which was chilling and sickening. The police responded really quickly – they know the address now – arriving just as i was leaving to go to Benalla to do worship up there. We had a quick conversation about what had happened during the morning and how this shouldn’t happen in ‘nice suburbs like this’. Then during the week one of the people who owns another apartment in the block was assaulted by E, so an order was made that E and J need to move out straight away.

Of course they do. It’s been unsafe and it’s been terrible. But i hate that while it’s worked out fine for me [as I always knew it would], that E and J can’t esape the hell they’re living in – whether it’s of their own or the world’s making. i hate that this gift of hope and a new start is in tatters for them. I hate that i feel so relieved; that i’m coming face to face with my own hypocrisy; that from 9 to 5 i’m advocating something that i can’t live in reality. I hate that i gave up thinking that he would stop hitting her, and that i hoped only for me to stop hearing.

‘Most of us lead lives of quiet desperation’. One of the police officers said this to me last Sunday, and the quote’s been rolling around my mind this week. My version of hell these last few weeks has been temporary, and i always had many options when i wanted to escape it. I know that for many this is not temporary, and it’s inescapable. I suspect there are people who have read this blog who have often wondered at my naivety, and some who are reading the stuff i’ve put together for advent, and the plans we’ve been describing for communal justice, and thinking that it just doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of their reality. and they are right. There are some realities this can’t stand up to. I’m so sorry if things i’ve written have been simplistic about your reality, and offered judgement instead of compassion. There are some things for which no prayer or promise of hope can offer a solution. I only wish I had an alternative.