Homelessness: An issue we need to be talking about
Described as not having safe, appropriate or long-term living accommodation, homelessness is unfortunately a universal problem. It’s an issue that is impacting people all over the world and also right here in Australia. The statistics are shocking. Ranging in age and gender, there are currently 105 327 people that are homeless in Australia alone. Affecting countless people in every state of Australia, homelessness rates are the highest in New South Wales, followed closely by Victoria and Queensland. Whist homelessness is depicted to be quite a common issue, it’s important to note that each and every person has faced different experiences and different circumstances that has lead them to where they are today — homeless. Such experiences and circumstances often stem from domestic and family violence, financial and housing difficulties as well as a range of other reasons. Sadly, members of society often hold very strong and stereotypical views of those living on the streets. Such stereotypes are more often than not unfortunate misconceptions rather than actual facts:
Multiple Australian media personalities have spoken out about the current state of homelessness within Australia, effectively utilizing their popular public platforms to generate awareness and further discussion. In March this year, The Project’s Waleed Aly raised the topic of homelessness on the show, highlighting the seriousness of the issue as a topic that we desperately need to talk about. He pointed out how begging is in fact illegal in all states except for New South Wales, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. With begging deemed to be illegal in so many Australian states, Waleed took the time to discuss the reasons why as well as the unfortunate consequences that result. Take a look:
Waleed stressed the clear lack of funding from the Government, evident by more and more cuts to homelessness services. Thanks to the 2014 budget, courtesy of Joe Hockey, a staggering $70 million was cut from community service projects. The repercussions of this funding cut can be seen within homeless communities right around Australia, as highlighted in a recent episode of Meshel Laurie’s Nitty Gritty podcast. Meshel spoke to a number of homeless people within Melbourne’s CBD following negative media coverage that criticized the homeless community. Emphasizing the significant lack of support from both the local council and the state Government, it was discussed how the homeless people of Melbourne rely on philanthropic and community organisations that provide outstanding support for their community. Also featured on the podcast was Heather Holst, Deputy CEO of Launch Housing. She too highlighted the difficulties of sourcing emergency and long-term housing for members of the homeless community, stressing that the current state of Australia’s housing economics is believed to be the leading contributor to such difficulties. She also pointed out that if low-income and affordable housing were readily available, this would in turn reduce the current rates of homelessness to some extent.
Unfortunately, some members of society choose to discriminate and belittle members of the homeless community rather than provide much-needed support. For example, the Bank of Melbourne recently banned an ‘inconsiderate person’ from living in and littering their branch. Without taking the circumstances or even the feelings of this person into consideration, the bank staff thoughtlessly banned them from their premises, offering no assistance to this person whatsoever. As quite a typical occurrence, homeless or disadvantaged people are more often than not mistreated and portrayed as unequal members of their community. The same practices aren’t exclusive to Australia, with homeless communities being unfairly treated on a global scale. This is particularly evident through pervasive measures of homeless deterrence. Public benches, for example, are purposely designed to discourage people from sleeping on them. Dividers or armrests are typically featured on such benches, restricting the area for someone to lie down.
Another common example is the installation of ‘anti-homeless’ spikes around the outside of buildings in London, as a way to prohibit people from sleeping on the streets.
Fortunately, activists have fought back and transformed a strip of spikes located in east London into a bed and an accompanying library:
Despite the discussed negative treatment of members of the homeless community, there are in fact countless non-profit organisations that provide support for many homeless Australians on a daily basis. A successful example is the organisation Orange Sky Laundry that provide free washing and drying facilities on the streets. The organisation’s founders, Brisbane-born Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, were honoured as 2016 Young Australians of the Year and have well and truly earned their title. Launching on the streets of Brisbane in 2014 as a single van with two washing machines and two dryers, Orange Sky Laundry now operates 11 laundry vans right across Australia.
The pair didn’t stop there, recently releasing their latest venture just a few days ago. Orange Sky Showers provide free showering facilities to the homeless, via essentially a portable bathroom equipped with two basins and two showers, all of which are self heated and built into a single van. Operating alongside its partner organisation and currently being trialed in Brisbane, here’s hoping Orange Sky Showers can follow suit and be distributed to those in need right around the country.
In a recent interview Nic spoke about their overarching goal — I couldn’t agree with him more:
“Our dream is really basic: to treat people how they want to be treated and to connect them in the community. Everyone deserves the basic human right of having clean clothes and being clean themselves.”
Just as the Orange Sky organisations aim to inspire others to provide the same compassion, respect and support to the Australian homeless community, food rescue organisations such as Foodbank and OzHarvest provide a number of services to the homeless year round. As a prime example of their efforts, OzHarvest recently began collecting leftover airplane food to give to the less fortunate. With 200–400kg of unopened and high quality food collected each and every day, OzHarvest aims to reduce food wastage in Queensland.
Likewise, however on an international scale, generosity doesn’t go unheard of. London hairdresser Joshua Coombes walks the city streets offering his services to the homeless free of charge. Using the #DoSomethingForNothing hashtag, Joshua posts transformation photos of his clients to his Instagram account, taken by his photographer friend Matt Spracklen. As a result, the hairdresser has gained quite a notable reception within the media:
Similarly, a charity has given bus tickets to London’s young homeless community, allowing them to sleep in a safe environment on night buses when emergency housing and hostels reach capacity. Comparable to Australia’s current state of homelessness, the London based charity New Horizon Youth Centre also struggles to accommodate members of the homeless community in affordable housing.
It is evident that homelessness is a serious issue affecting too many Australians. As Waleed Aly made extremely clear, the current state of funding and support from all three tiers of Government is just unacceptable. In order to tackle this problem and mitigate the discussed negative perceptions and actions demonstrated by various members of society, the issue of homelessness needs to spoken about. Rather than simply ignoring or brushing off the issue, homelessness needs to become a local, a national and also a global discussion to address the struggles faced and the realities encountered when living on the streets. It is without question that we should all continue to support non-profit organisations and the outstanding work that they are doing. I also think it is important that we take note and adopt the effective strategies undertaken on an international scale as a means to further help those in need.
Originally published at The Isthmus.