Having just finished a two-week business trip to New Zealand and Australia in December 2000 I had one day free before flying home. One day to see the sights of Sydney, to do some shopping, and to enjoy the warmth before returning to winter in the UK. As I was walking down the street a tramp lying on a bench in a bus shelter caught my eye. Why? Because as I drew level with the bus shelter he rolled off the bench and onto the pavement, where he remained immobile.
This presented me with a dilemma. What should I do? There was no such dilemma for Susan, a smartly dressed lady in her early forties. She crossed the street quickly and went directly to the tramp while I was still dithering. Everyone else walked by, trying to ignore the unfortunate human being who was apparently unconscious on the pavement. I joined Susan by the tramp. She shouted to a traffic warden to call an ambulance. While I worried about getting my hands dirty Susan pulled the tramp’s urine soaked trousers up to preserve his dignity. Only then did I forget about getting my hands soiled and attempt to help her.
The ambulance came and took the tramp and his few belongings away. The traffic warden walked off. The Salvation Army man on the corner of the street continued to shake his tin (he was collecting for the homeless). Susan thanked me. She asked me my name and told me hers. I asked why she had rushed to help when everyone else turned their backs and walked quickly by.
Susan told me that you could only understand what it was like to be homeless if you had been in the situation yourself. She told me how she had ended up living in her car with her dog after her marriage failed. The church she belonged to turned its back on Susan in the same way that the world turned its back on the Sydney tramp. As the tears formed I stood there thoroughly ashamed of the church. And then I wondered where I could wash my hands.