Homeless not Hopeless

This week is dedicated to those 9000 or so Western Australians who didn’t have a place to call home last night.

You see evidence of homelessness everywhere every day. Many of us turn away from it, not wanting to see it, fearful of the dishevelled, the drug addicted, the anti-social behaviours, the messiness of it.

Such is the confronting nature of homelessness that some of us opine that those in authority must ‘move them on’, put them elsewhere to make our lives less confronted.

Family break-down, abusive domestic environments, job-loss, addiction and untreated mental health issues all contribute to homelessness and most of us can’t imagine ever becoming homeless. Yet, I’d wager that every person without a home never aspired to be homeless. Homelessness is not an incurable disease; it is hardly ever a choice and it can be overcome.

I happened to catch a radio interview during the week with Holly Rose, a young university student who found herself homeless after her mother moved to another country. For Holly Rose, homelessness crept up after her mother was evicted from her rental property. She found herself living in her car at the university she was studying at; using the campus facilities and sheltering in libraries; too proud and embarrassed to ask for help. Her story seemed so ordinary and possible, so distant from the quintessential representation of how we normalise homelessness.

There are dozens of organisations whose sole purpose is to help transition the homeless back into secure, affordable housing. Local heroes like St Patrick’s Community Support Centre do extraordinarily good work in supporting Fremantle’s homeless. Yet St. Pat’s is constrained by funding, they never have enough beds to house everyone and they, amongst many other organisations, can only do so much with their army of volunteers.

REIWA members, through the Community REInvest program provide financial help to the Salvation Army’s various homeless assistance measures. So far, REIWA agents have donated more than $700,000. Local agents, Caporn Young and dethridge GROVES support this program and I encourage other REIWA member agencies to join.

Another brilliant program to help end homelessness is The Home Hub, a housing program that professes to offer a hand up, not a handout. Home Hub supports a housing-first approach connecting people who have vacant homes with people who can’t afford to pay full rent in the private housing market.

Current government social housing systems mean eligible applicants can wait up to eight years to get into suitable housing. According to various sources, 60,000 households need social and affordable homes in WA, yet despite the overwhelming need for housing, 1 in 6 homes nationally remain underutilised.

Meanwhile, next time you pass a homeless person, stop and ask the question, ‘do you need anything.’ The response may surprise and offers you the chance to give.

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