Homelessness, it's a word we hear used a lot today, and for many of us, we know exactly what it is and we have no trouble bringing the typical image of someone sleeping on a park bench to mind when we give the word more than a casual thought. However, should we be taking the word more seriously, should we be trying to understand what causes someone to be "homeless" , should we be doing more to understand how homelessness looks and feels for someone faced with it, and then, should we doing more to address it? Personally, I think the answer to all these questions is yes!
Local journalist David Dixon has just researched and written a story for my National Life website and it's both excellent and thought-provoking and I'd like to use some short extracts from his story for OC Life readers. I think you may find some of the information very disturbing, but certainly treatable. I'd then like to offer an opinion piece on what I believe we, as a society could do, if we had a mind to seriously tackle the triggers that create homelessness.
David Dixon writes:
Living homeless in Australia can be a joyless daily grind where you seem invisible to the rest of society; say those who have experienced its grim reality first-hand.
“You constantly struggle because of the lack of not having somewhere to go, it’s as simple as that,” said one long-term homeless man in the NSW regional city of Orange where homelessness is described as an “unseen” problem.
“It causes a lot of friction; it’s a day-to-day battle where you wake-up and say, ‘how am I going to survive today?’,” another local homeless man said.
In the ABS Census for 2016; 116,427 people were counted as being homeless on Census night. This means that the rate of homelessness (which takes into account population density) is 50 out of every 10,000 people — up five per cent from the 48 persons in 2011, and up on the 45 persons in 2006.
Most people think of homelessness in the classic police drama stereotype of people “sleeping rough” in alleyways and under bridges, but in Australia, "sleeping out” only accounts for about seven per cent of homelessness.
Under the ABS definition, when a person does not have suitable accommodation alternatives, they are considered homeless if their current living arrangement:
· is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
· has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
· does not allow them to have control of, and access to space for social relations.
Digby Hughes from the peak body for homeless services in NSW; Homelessness NSW says that there will always be people who will become homeless, for reasons of domestic violence, dysfunctional family life, or alcohol, drug and mental health issues.
“The first thing is to get them a home, a unit, or a house. This gives people security; you can then wrap-around issues to do with mental health, drug and alcohol dependency,” he said.
“To try and believe that we can work with problems of addiction before fixing their housing issues is a nonsense,” Digby believes.
He said that while it would take “a few billion” to overcome the problem in NSW, the money would be well spent. “The NSW Government is spending $250 million a year on the crisis, health costs, jail costs, lost human capital,” he said.
“We surveyed 500 people rough sleeping. And they had recorded 9200 interactions with the police in the prior six months; that’s a lot of interactions.
“This makes for a whole range of add-on costs. We as a country lose their productivity while they have a loss of their lives, of their opportunities,’ Digby said.
Youth homelessness is one of the largest groups of homeless in Australia.
Major groups at risk of homelessness include women and children escaping domestic violence; the unemployed, former prisoners, and those with mental health issues.
“The first thing they need is a safe bed; access to housing is a central issue. If you don’t have a house, you don’t have hygiene, you don’t have the chance to get a job, to make the important contacts that help you get on with your life,” says Narelle Stocks from Bathurst Veritas House.
Read the full story: You can read David Dixon's story in full at www.nationallife.com.au