Meet Peter Hayward [image source: his (now-deletd) LJ].
He’s a young blogger from Brisbane with big dreams of being a writer for TV. Up on his website he has ideas for webcomics, scripts for plays [n.b. potentially triggering] and TV shows, links to his Youtube videos and stories. He has a penchant in his blog of doing stunts for publicity. One such stunt involved spending only one dollar on food each day for twenty-eight days. Another stunt was taking photos of rotting meat over a period of some days (I still don’t understand what he’s trying to do there).
His latest stunt? Living on the streets of Melbourne for the month of February. For the experience.
His first stop in his scouring on the net for advice on his latest big idea is a livejournal community called melbournemaniac [Warning: some melbournemaniac links suggest violent action.]. The title of this initial post is “Peter’s Homeless Adventure”. Yes, apparently, being homeless is an adventure. The folk at the community take this as kindly as you would expect and he is roundly mocked, criticised and questioned.
He apologises for using the word “adventure”, and after a right royal shellacking at both melbournemaniac and brisneyland, adds a charity contingent to his month of self-imposed destitution. A hundred dollars for every day he’s homeless is his aim! How noble.
Despite the very clear reasons given to him why what he’s doing is utterly atrocious, he goes ahead and does it anyway. He doesn’t care that resources for the homeless are scarce, that he’s putting a strain on an already overburdened system or that if something goes very badly wrong, he will be receiving services from the public system that he might not have otherwise needed (Police, Emergency, etc).
Actually starting his month-long escapade does nothing to dispel the idea that what he’s doing is harmless. In fact, I would say that it bolsters his preconceptions and reinforces his lack of awareness of his already glaringly shocking privilege.
Things start out reasonably quiet. He wanders around Melbourne, watches free entertainment, eats chips, gets bored, gets rained on. Pretty much what you’d expect if a rich white kid spends time pretending to be homeless. As time goes on, however, shit starts getting real.
He lies, you see.
If he were consistent in his lies for the purpose of the social experiment, it would be somewhat understandable in the twisted logic of Privileged People That Must Save the Oppressed. But no, no no. He’s choosy about who he lies to. He doesn’t disclose his actual living situation to anybody that might help him by giving him change.
He doesn’t tell the woman that was actually homeless and was giving him advice and candy.
He doesn’t tell the girl that risks her job at the donut shop to give him a bag of donuts after closing time.
He doesn’t tell the homeless people he ends up talking to.
He doesn’t tell the lovely Laughing Club women who invite him to lunch and pay roughly twenty dollars for his meal. (Though one seems to know something is up).
He also doesn’t tell the kindly older couple from the UK who see him sleeping in the rain and invite him to their house for breakfast. And offer the use of their shower. And wash his clothes. And then pay for his clothes to be dried at the local laundromat. And then give him a pop-out umbrella for the bad weather, some fruit for the road, and then *fifty dollars* to tide him over. Oh, and the offer of a lift and some nice clothes when he finally gets to looking for work in March. (Did I mention his Dad is going to fly down from Brisbane in March to pay for him to stay in a hotel until Peter can find a job?)
I tell you who he DOES tell, though.
He DOES tell a pretty young girl in a park that he thinks is cute.
And he DOES tell MX Magazine, who organise to do an interview with him while he’s homeless, in which he spreads his message of tolerance by saying that:
“I think the idea that am stealing people’s money, that I am taking money that would otherwise go to other people, is bollocks.”
The most depressing thing is that he’s partly right. See, Peter Hayward is reasonably clean, recently shaven, white, male, reasonably well-dressed, neurotypical, not abused or suffering from the fallout of an abusive situation and not addicted to either a legal or illegal substance. Would any of these people be so ready to help people in their 40s or 50s? Dirtier looking people? People who aren’t white? Women? People who are distressed in any way?
He clearly doesn’t need help, so there is no sense of danger about him. People, as a result, feel comfortable giving money to him. Their fight or flight mechanism is not triggered, so they do not hesitate to help him out.
Probably the most sickening thing for me in this whole debacle is the cheersquad at his blog, which includes his mother, who is not afraid to cast damaging aspersions on the homeless, refer to those of different races as “coloured” and use her apparent career as a social worker (I’m guessing that’s what she is from her comments) to give weight to her prejudices.
There are a lot of people at that journal making big excuses for this guy, but in the end, for me, it comes down to this: he is doing this for himself. The homeless were clearly a chastened afterthought. Looking through is other work, it is abundantly clear that he doesn’t have the depth of understanding nor the empathy to comprehend the full tragedy of this particular issue. Or any issue, really. It must be through his lens, through his perspective. It is the only way he can understand it, and what he doesn’t realise is that by using that perspective, he understands nothing. Homelessness is about losing everything, about fighting barriers that society has put up either due to circumstance or the way you were born. If you carry your privilege around you like a blanket, how can you truly experience the cruelty of a life without a home?