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And Then There Was Silence


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Squatter Bother

Across the road from us, in the bush land, live a small community of squatters. Their numbers fluctuate frequently, there does seem to be some consistency in who lives there. And they use the water tap at the front of our house for their water source.

The squatters are a source of frustration for me because they sometimes want more than just water. They want a safe place to store their groceries (our house). They want a spare mattress (guess whose?). They want a lift around town (guess which car they have in mind). They want a kitchen to cook their food in (no prizes for guessing which kitchen). They still have a torch of ours that James gave them. They want bread. They wash themselves on our front porch where the tap is.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Kat is a scrooge. These people want these things because they don't have access to them and need them. But that simply isn't the case. They have so much money coming in from the government. They have access to housing through their families that they've chosen to live apart from. And when James happens to answer the door, they often get given what they want because he's way more sympathetic towards them. What these people NEED is a budget. What they NEED is a life coach to help them work out how to live this kind of lifestyle without resorting to consistently burdening others (specifically, me!). What they NEED is forethought in their decision making process. A flowchart of options that doesn't result in "ask the people across the road".

A few months ago, we had a series of escalating incidents that caused me to go all ragey about the squatters. They wanted water, then bread, then at 11pm they woke us up wanting a lift (which we refused because it was 11pm and they can walk the 2km to get there themselves). Then the next morning a lady wanted a lift to a location very close to the pub (which I refused because it's the pub and only 1km away). Then James lent them an air mattress and torch, he even pumped up the air mattress from them. It just got bigger and bigger until I couldn't take it anymore. The next time they came to the door I had this massive ragey, yelling, swearing rant at James for encouraging and enabling their behaviour towards us.

Since then, James has cut back for my sake. Their requests have stepped back. If they want bread and I answer the door, I tell them to go to the shops to buy it. James'll give them a slice. Last week they need oil for cooking, James gave them some in a little baggie and they were unhappy with the amount he gave them (more than double what we'd use for cooking a meal). And that brings me to today.

Today a lady came to my door with a small bag of meat. She wanted us to store it in our freezer and she'd pick it up later in the afternoon. Not unreasonable, surely? But after EVERYTHING they want from us, I'm just SO OVER IT! I'm over being taken advantage of. I'm over being their back up plan. So I said no. She tried to reason with me and I ended up repeating, "it's not my problem". Because, gosh damn it, IT'S NOT MY PROBLEM!! A lack of forethought on her part does not constitute an emergency on my part. Why didn't she just buy the meat in the afternoon? Did she seriously just then go to the shops to buy meat thinking "I'll ask the across-the-road-people to put it in their fridge"?? Because that's what it looks like right now.

But as I closed the door, I felt (and still do feel) really bad about refusing her. I JUST CAN'T WIN!! These aren't people you help and then feel good about afterwards. These aren't the typical homeless you find in metro areas because unlike metro-homeless, these squatters are traditional land owners and get heaps of money in royalties. These are people who have the option of a house and are choosing not to take it. Yet instead, they choose to live partially off ourJames' generosity. They don't need the kind of help that they're asking for. They need a different kind of help that involves being intimately involved with them and their situation, having their trust and working out life options. They need a careers guidance counselor, not a slice of bread. They have money they can use, they have legs to walk, so they can walk 2km to the shops and buy their own bread. But they would rather knock on our door for bread because we're free and closer. And they wouldn't be interested in accepting more substantial help. We're just Jekyll and Hyde from across the road (and they've learnt to specifically ask for James when I answer the door).

But when I said no to storing meat in the freezer, I just feel bad for denying her that easy request. It's just meat in my freezer. I have room for it! If I took the meat and put it in my freezer, I KNOW I would be very resentful about it. And I can't win! I can't help these people in a way that matters and whether I choose to help them or not, I feel bad about it for some complicated reason.

So that's my rant about the squatters. What would you do about it? (And I know the Bible on this topic, I really do. James and I have talked about this many times at length. I really think it's more complicated than just giving them the cloak on my back and sandals on my feet.)

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oh no! you poor thing :-( The pushing the boundaries thing is one of the reasons I had to leave working with the homeless (metro-homeless!) at Wings (the soup kitchen). And I could walk away from that, because it wasn't right on my doorstep! No wonder you're frustrated, anyone would be!

It sounds to me though, that what these people really need is someone to actually give a damn about them. (I kind of tend to assume that that's all anybody really wants/needs, but it sounds true in this case, too.) Have you sat down and had a proper chat with them over a cup of tea/coffee? Taken an interest in their lives, listened to their stories, that kind of thing? There are two options if you want to be that person: one, have them over to yours/invite them in when they knock on, or two, invite yourself over to theirs. Without being obnoxious about it, if you can invite them in and have that be a degree of uncomfortableness, or a degree too far of familiarity, then I think that's a lesson in itself (and kinda what I think Jesus was getting at with the cloak and sandals thing... go too far in the direction someone is pushing you, and watch them back away). However, given that they want to use your kitchen and so forth, I don't know if inviting them in for a drink will be blunt enough for them to get the message in the way I think Jesus was recommending, and if you raise the stakes and invite them to come and move in with you, chances are it might still backfire. But if you think you can swing it (without being obnoxious -- the beauty of Jesus' plan is that it is both brutally blunt, and delightfully subtle, all in one go!), then do this. But if they knock on and you say something like, "Oh, I'm so glad you've called round, I was meaning to come and speak to you myself. I'll come over with you and we can have cup of tea, let me just go and get my tea bag," and then go and get your tea bag (leave them on the doorstep and shut the door), plus whatever slice of bread or whatever they ask you for, and go over for half an hour, make tea for yourself, ask them about themselves and listen to their answers, then you should begin to get somewhere. Do this every time if you can. This plan has multiple strings on it:
*it creates just enough awkwardness to get them thinking again about the situation,
*it doesn't let them take advantage of you (why I suggested closing the door on them, therefore not leading to pushing boundaries further - also why you are bringing only one tea-bag over to theirs),
*it reinforces that providing for oneself is, so far as you are concerned, the norm -- you've taken your own tea-bag!
*it subtly introduces the idea of "if this is the price we have to pay for [a slice of bread] ...!"
*you stop being the person who doesn't give a damn about them, in both their eyes and yours
*they may well be interesting people, that actually, you'll be glad to get to know better once you give them a chance
*you get to ask them how they feel about having to sponge off you, if it comes up (may take a few goes), which in turn raises the issue in a subtle way
*when they turn the conversation back on you, as eventually they will, THEN, you have a perfectly natural opportunity to mention that actually, it is difficult for you to accommodate them because you think they're going to far
*by talking to them you will get a better idea of where they're really at and what they really need
*you are then in a better position to arrange extra help for them if you want to - either making a budget with them yourself, or ringing someone up to come over, or whatever. Worst case scenario, they don't change their attitudes or feel they need to, but, due to the "Is this the price we have to pay...?" factor, they become more self-reliant almost out of spite, and/or, go and bother someone else instead of you. But hey, now they're still not knocking on your door! And best case scenario, you are able to actually help them in a meaningful way, and you guys become friends in the process. Or maybe you get one out of two on that score. But either way, you win.

But outside of talking to them and getting to know them a bit better, I don't have any ideas, sorry. I hope it works out for you my dear. I'll be praying <3 <3 <3

In response to your questions: No, I haven't tried getting to know them. But James has, and hasn't experienced much success. They aren't interested in a relationship. However, as he has made efforts, so they have made efforts to get more stuff out of us. It seems the more they know us/him, the more likely they are to come take advantage of us.

The thing is, Indigenous cultural is all about sharing. There isn't ownership as we westerners know it. If a family member is earning a wage, then the whole family is entitled to it. If someone owns a house, the entire family is entitled to stay there. And I mean the entire, extended family. This is both a beautiful way to care for each other, and a horrible means of exploitation. The Indigenous staff members at school find it rather grating that their family members come around once a fortnight to collect their share of the wage to spend it at the pub, when they've been working hard to earn that money. On the other hand, I've seen other families take care of many nieces and nephews whose parents cannot. It's really fantastic that those children get a stable home.

I appreciate the sentiment and your suggestions. But unless James (as the person who's most invested in the squatters) were to go over and explicitly confront them, then offer help, I don't think they want help. And inviting them to stay with us is SOOOOO NOT ever going to happen ever!! No no no no. No. I have a gif here that'll helpfully explain how I feel about that idea

So as James gets to know these squatters better, so they feel more entitled to ask us for things, it's just the way their culture is. The only thing I've personally found effective is nipping it in the bud. No, you cannot put your meat in my freezer, maybe you should have thought about that before you decided to live in the bush instead of with your family/buy your meat in the morning instead of the late afternoon. Or maybe she could have bought the meat frozen from the freezer section so it would thaw out during the day.

Sorry, I hadn't realised the cultural differences you were dealing with! Yeah, um, ouch? headdesk?

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