It is important that we discuss homelessness. Homeless people are present and active in our city. There are a lot of difficult and challenging discussions being had. Almost all of them work on the presumption that this should not be our issue.
The long and short of it is that homelessness does exist and it is on the rise. It is difficult to quantify, because when census night comes around homelessness people can be everywhere from couch-surfing or in a backpackers to sleeping rough on the streets of Perth, Fremantle, Leederville or a bevy of other well-lit areas.
Recently, there has been some media attention around homelessness and the way we as a society can deal with street present people. Homelessness does not have a one-size fits all solution. People who become homeless stretch everywhere between being children and teenagers through to the elderly, with high rates of multiculturalism and an overrepresentation of Indigenous Australian’s, if there was one answer to these diverse interests and problems we’d have found it by now. There are a lot of bright, committed and active people trying to solve this issue, and they have been for a long time.
In January this year, as a co-founder of Street Smugglers, a homeless awareness and advocacy organisation, I went homeless for a week. It was challenging and exciting. By far, this was the worst week of my life. I suffered through blistering heat during the day, the coldest winds and rain at night and I failed to get a good night’s sleep often having to move at least three times a night.
This taste of homelessness saw me begin to grapple the issues that homeless people face. It was immediately clear that isolation and distance from the rest of society was an issue. One of the things that became clear was that I felt uncomfortable being in public even though I had nowhere else to go. I was judged, looked down upon and belittled. These attitudes fail to recognise that homeless people have a right to the city and that they ought to be supported adequately.
Support for homeless people takes multiple dimensions. Some people will need a room for a night or a week, others will need specialist medical help for months. I get it, homelessness is not a pretty sight. It is the physical realisation that people fall through the cracks of our system and that they are unproductive and not contributing to the economy.
Homeless people need to be supported with their individual needs. Maybe the 14 year old boy I met and his family needed active relationship counselling and education support, or the 45 year old woman needed better help with her expectant child and abusive partner, or the 70 year old man who was kicked out of his accommodation for spending time in a hospital. These are but some of the devastating and saddening stories of homeless people.
Earlier this year, PwC and Jewish House in Sydney released a report that costed homelessness at over $10 billion. This is an extensive and complicated issue with social and economic ramifications. Nobody should want increases in homelessness, but consistent negative and generalist comments are not helpful and only make issues worse.