I wake early on the second morning in my new house. I’m still learning the new sounds and lie half asleep trying to associate each noise to an action: that is a drawer opening, that is someone coming downstairs, that is someone going out the front door, that is someone being really careful to be quiet in the kitchen… How considerate. I roll up thinking: if I let them know I’m up, they can stop worrying about waking me.

The lights aren’t even on! How is anyone meant to get ready for work in the dark.  I flip them on to tease my housemate, “Thanks for being considerate but you don’t have to tiptoe around in the dark!”  and realise very quickly that this roughly-dressed man coming out of our pantry is not she.

I think we both froze and then I followed up with something stellar like, “Hey”

I follow that up with just what’s on the surface.

“Are you looking for something to eat?,” and continue babbling as I move into the kitchen, “Do you want toast? I could make toast. And coffee.  I can’t really function before I’ve had coffee.”

He says, “No thanks” and we move into a conversation about the purpose of the Footscray Community Outreach house.  He’s on the street and looking for housing but we’re really set up for families with children so he can’t stay here … “How did you get in?” I ask.  “Knocked”. He replies casually.

I talk about our open community dinner.  I don’t have housing referral information but if he comes back tonight I’ll print stuff out.  Eventually we run out of small talk and I indicate I need to start getting ready for work. “No problem,” he says, “I’ll show myself out.” But I follow him to the door anyway, see him out, check it latches, then check all the other latches. Just in case.

Later in the day I fire an email around: “Hey guys, think we need to be making sure the doors are secure at night. Found a community member in the kitchen at 6.30am!”

Aah, but, as it turns out, my new friend is not a known community member and I’ve been having a chat with someone whom I guess may have been casing the place looking for something to take.

There’s lots of different ways to respond to finding someone you don’t know in your kitchen at 6.30am.  Apparently, “What the hell are you doing in here? Get out!” {with optional further swearing for colour}, is a more common response…  and quite a confrontational one.

At the first point of contact, I am standing in the doorway that, as far as this guy might imagine, is the only way out of the room.  He will have to go through me to get out.

I’m in my pyjamas, I’m not wearing my glasses and (sorry to let the side down) I’m a girl.

I genuinely didn’t feel unsafe at the time.  My confusion was probably an advantage to him – had my housemate just let him in? was he known in the community? has he lived here before?  

What is your need?  I have just unpacked in the kitchen, bought some food… is there anything I would really miss? Anything I couldn’t give you?

It starts to sink in more as the community responds to my blithe email.  Housing referral information, sleeping bag, dinner, someone to be with me when he comes back to the house (it will be a bloke), clear boundaries to be communicated, all residents are informed and offered support – “How can we continue to make this feel like a safe space?”… it may have been out of the box, but as the story spreads beyond community to friends and work colleagues I am asked again and again “Why didn’t you tell him to get out!?”, I can only respond helplessly, “Well, if I’m choosing out of hostility and hospitality… I can back hospitality up yeah?”

In responding out of my pre-coffee and ignorant state I have possibly  dialed back a scenario that might have been unpleasant.  I’ll give you that.  But I am interested in what the factors were that made my response different from what it might have been  because it seems how spaces are set up and what our expectations are of those spaces purpose can impact the range of responses available to us when welcoming strangers:


  • I expected my home space to be a common one and for stranger to be welcome there
  • As a lead tenant of the house –  hosting folks who rock up is part of the position description
  • I expect people looking for something at 6.30am need it. I don’t do anything at 6.30am without a really good reason.


How can we make: “What is the need that brings you to this place?” our first consideration in responding to others? (whether that’s kids, partners, work colleagues, or randoms in off the street…)

Not a bad thing to pick up the first week on the job.