Providing a ‘home’ for homeless Australians
is calling for a greater commitment to ending homelessness.
This National Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2021), The Salvation Army is calling for a national commitment to end homelessness in Australia.
Dr Jed Donoghue, Acting General Manager of Homelessness at The Salvation Army explains that the governmental COVID-response to primary homelessness during 2020 showed it is possible to house and support our homeless population and, by extension, prevent premature deaths due to homelessness. What is needed, he says, is government and community commitment:
The notion of home
This year, the focus of The Salvation Army through National Homelessness Week is around the notion of ‘home’ – a simple but extremely powerful concept.
Home provides a foundation for employment, education, family and community engagement, warmth and safety. It serves as a secure base from where one can access health services, employment and training.
We all share an understanding of the meaning of the word ‘home’ – it is something that joins us together.
Preventing premature deaths
From The Salvation Army’s perspective, a major focus of this National Homelessness Week is education and advocacy around the issue of premature death due to homelessness.
We can all take steps – be it the government, community agencies or individuals – to better engage and understand this issue and act to prevent people from dying as a result of homelessness. To highlight this issue, The Salvation Army will be running a conversation hour around the subject, as well as partnering with Parity – the magazine of the Council to Homeless Persons.
The August 2021 edition of the magazine, titled Every Grain of Sand: Preventing Homelessness Deaths, examines this issue in depth – showing that ‘the mortality rate of those without a home far exceeds that of the housed population’.
The fact that even one person dies on the street as a result of homelessness is a national tragedy. Sadly it is a widespread and under-reported issue.
If you think about some of the extreme weather conditions during winter and summer in Australia, it’s plain to see the adverse impact that has on the health of those sleeping rough, or in inadequate housing.
Then there is the potential of violence and abuse, difficulties accessing appointments with doctors and other service providers, general lack of food – let alone nutritious food, substance abuse, and chronic health issues, including mental health issues.
Stopping the spiral of homelessness
There are a range of factors that lead to or increase the risk of homelessness.
Some of the contributing factors can include relationship and family breakdown, loss of or insecure employment, or health issues – all of these and more can make it extremely difficult to meet and maintain the cost of living, including housing.
To combat this, we need a national bi-partisan approach from our government that says ‘homelessness in this country is a national shame, and as the government, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable’.
It is vitally important to set tangible, accountable outcomes, and then act – including to significantly increase the stock of social housing, which is the best safety net for people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.
This is essential – because well-maintained social housing with accompanying support provides longevity of tenure and offers affordability. This, in turn, allows people to thrive within their own home and within a community setting.
A role for all to play
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that the issue exists, and not judge without understanding. We can all read, learn, listen and ask.
During National Homelessness Week, The Salvation Army is holding a daily conversation hour around a different theme concerning homelessness, including:
- preventing premature deaths from the experience of homelessness
- better understanding the impact of homelessness on accompanying children and models of good practice
- homelessness and the justice system, and more
We all have the chance to reach out to our local, state and national parliamentarians, and all we have to do is look at how the government responded to the public health crisis of COVID-19 – acting quickly and mobilising people sleeping rough – off the street and into accommodation with support. It can be done, but it takes leadership and will from the Prime Minister down.
We can also have conversations around the dinner table with friends and family, or, if possible, talk to someone who we see is sleeping rough, and offer to get them a cup of coffee or a meal, or assist them to get to an agency.
In our social housing and homelessness sector, we have all seen remarkable transformations take place. When a person finally secures a home, it can make a huge difference to their physical and mental health, and bring about a sense of hope and security, and potentially improve their family and community connections.
So, this National Homelessness Week, please get involved, please get engaged, and please speak out – for the sake of the most vulnerable in our community.
We are talking about the lives of our fellow Australians, our fellow human beings, and the fact that a home – or lack of – can be a matter of life or death.
- Dr Jed Donoghue