As more privileged people getting involved at the margins of society it can be easy to bring an invasive controlling posture into marginal spaces. I think that when we become aware of that, a helpful response can be to think of ourselves as guests in someone else’s space.
It might be a geographical space. For example, I’ve been wanting to get more involved in the work my church does at the housing commission flats in our neighbourhood, so I’ve just been hanging out at the drop-in centre there with some of the people from the flats. One of the older folks there who’s lived at the flats since they were built has been hosting me by insisting that I sit at her table and introducing me to other residents. I could insist on getting busy volunteering, but I think it’s respectful to be directed by one of the locals and take the time to grow trust. I expect that if that goes well there’ll be opportunities to help at some stage, but that the relationship might be more equal and mutual.
It might also happen in a social space. For another example, I’ve been wanting to be involved in supporting folks in the CBD who have been sleeping out, particularly as the parts of the media, the mayor and a decent chunk of the public has turned against them. Since I worked for ten years with a community development organisation in the CBD who worked with people who were homeless I know a fair few people who’ve been homeless and some who are currently homeless. However, as I’ve never actually been homeless myself I want to be careful about jumping in thinking I know what are the best things to do about the problem. I think it’s better if I can take a lead from people who are currently homeless or have been in the past. So last week when the police were moving people on from Flinders Street station I was trying to take a lead from people I know who have been homeless or are currently. That ended up meaning that I was mostly just trying to be a calm calm presence in the space and look out for opportunities to support the people who had been sleeping at the station. I ended up doing similar on Tuesday during the Future Melbourne meeting. There was a lot of activity going on outside the town hall to protest Robert Doyle’s plan to ban sleeping out in the CBD, so we were just trying to create a bit more of a peaceful and welcoming space at City Square.