I have two businesses on the railway station platform and over the past two years of doing business there, I have come to really appreciate the complexity of the world we live in. I’ve built relationships with homeless people living on the platform and seen first-hand the kind of toxic cycles they live in. An outsider may just see someone yelling and swearing, drunk or disorderly, and to be honest, sometimes that’s exactly what they are. But underneath all of that are human beings. Happy, friendly, kind human beings who have found themselves at the bottom of a hole they can’t seem to climb out from. That yelling and poor behaviour isn’t excusable, but when you take the time to build a rapport you’ll find that it’s often from frustration at their situation, and what’s more they are quite open to being told when they’ve crossed a line or done wrong. Most of the time they know that their addictions are killing them but can only ever manage a few days of sobriety for whatever reason — they know what it does to them, but are so entrenched in their cycle of abuse that they have no idea what normal even is. I guess the point of this is to say this: Geraldton has a large and growing homeless population and that isn’t going to change any time soon if the current trend keeps up. But we can have an amiable relationship with our homeless population if we take the time to do a few simple things. 1. Get to know them. My getting to know them started from purely selfish means, I assure you — my initial intent was simply to keep them onside so as to avoid trouble, but what evolved was a heartfelt connection and an awareness of the grey areas in this life. 2. Treat them with kindness and compassion. Look past the dirt or the smell and even the yelling — although I encourage you to use discernment in this and if they’re yelling at you, just walk on by. One of my favourite residents of the platform (who has now moved to Perth as her husband had a heart attack) always seemed so aggressive. She was cagey and grumpy and always expecting me to do wrong by her, but after a period of time where I slowly built up a relationship, we found a mutual respect. I respected her as a woman who had seen far too much and had a fierce heart to protect her people and she respected me as a person that was always kind, considerate and compassionate with her. 3. Understand that the cycle of addiction is unpredictable and pay attention to it. I’ve come to learn to recognise where they are at and no matter how friendly I am with them, sometimes I just stay away. I don’t put up with bad behaviour from them but I also know that there is no sense in inflaming a situation when someone is intoxicated. And when I tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable, it’s because I’ve built that rapport that to the best of their ability they listen. It’s not always going to be sunshine and roses but these people have a place in the world and by our kindness perhaps we can somehow improve it. I’ve had homeless people buy me flowers, leave money with me for their other homeless friends, call me mum and sis and angel. It’s not because I do anything particularly special, I just see them, I don’t judge them, I just meet them where they are at and I invite you to as well. Pia Richardson is the co-owner of Railway Health Hub, managing director of Crossroads Life and runs Soul Food Cafe. She is a life coach and hypnotherapist with a passion for community wellbeing.