In an affluent society like Australia, the level of homelessness is a barometer for how we care for the most vulnerable. The Australian Homelessness Monitor, released by Launch Housing, shows that approximately 290,000 people in Australia received homelessness services in 2018/19. This was an increase of 14% over the previous four years.¹
Included in those figures is the rate of homelessness among indigenous people. The ABC says that “despite making up less than 3% of the Australian population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders account for 20% of the homeless population.”²
Homelessness is more than not having a roof over your head. Homelessness Australia uses the Australian Bureau of Statistics definition, which describes homelessness as
“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”³
It also emphasises the meaning of ‘home’ as being a place of security, safety and stability. As U2’s Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own says “a house doesn’t make a home.”⁴
One area of greater Melbourne where homelessness presents major challenges is the Yarra Ranges. Neal Taylor, CEO and Community Worker for Holy Fools, a not-for-profit which offers hope to individuals and families experiencing homelessness and other forms of disadvantage in the Yarra Ranges, says the region is unique and presents many challenges.
“We have no crisis accommodation, or any sort of facilities for anyone to stay in emergency situations,” he says. “The closest we have is boarding houses and most of those are not the nicest places to stay, due to drugs and alcohol, and violence.”
In talking about homelessness, Neal makes the important point that a lot of people who end up homeless seem to fall into two categories. There are some who fall into homelessness by accident. These are usually people who have had problems with meeting rental payments. Then there are those who have been longer-term homeless due to drug and alcohol addiction and other mental health issues. These are people who have usually come from a very traumatic background.
Through his many years of working in the community, Neal has found that a lot of people don’t know what to do when they first become homeless. He says this is an issue that organisations like Holy Fools need to address and let people know there are solutions for them when they become homeless.
Despite the challenges, there is hope. Neal relates a story of a couple who were sleeping in their car. A week beforehand, they had been living in a house in Boronia with their children. They found themselves evicted and their children went to live with their grandmother. It all happened so fast. It was a huge shock to them, but they worked hard to rectify it.
After some time, the couple’s relationship broke down and they went their separate ways. However, in doing so, they both found stable accommodation and their children can live with them again.
Dealing with homelessness is complex. Neal says that people can move into a boarding house, however, they encourage people to talk to relatives and friends to see if they can help. Generally, though, the best thing that Holy Fools can do is offer people assistance to make them just a little bit more comfortable where they are.
While the aim of Holy Fools is to prevent homelessness, they try to provide aid for people who are homeless in the form of food, clothing, backpack beds, and blankets. They also provide referrals to agencies that can help with housing.
Neal says they ideally want to prevent people ending up in homelessness. “We have a number of programs that do that,” he says, “and we would rather see that happen than band-aid solutions. The main area that seems to be funded at the moment though is band-aid solutions. I would rather see some efforts into preventing people ending up in homelessness.”
Living life as someone experiencing homelessness is an extraordinary burden on both physical and mental health.
The broader community tends to not understand that, for people who are living in homelessness, the survival instinct carries them, and they are unable to flourish.
Through CBBC’s ongoing research into homelessness, we are seeing the relevancy of our Flourishing Framework® for policy creation and practice in the homelessness space. What if the policies and practices around homelessness focused on creating space for people to meet their basic needs, live a purposeful life, feel they belong, and contribute to the community? If this was happening, work in the homeless space would be, to quote Neal, so much more than ‘band-aid solutions.’
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Cover image courtesy Holy Fools