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COMMENT: Stop the stigma on homelessness

Andjela Ergic, ECU Reporter

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Imagine coming home from a day of work and having the sidewalk of some run down street be your couch. Imagine the cold, winter night and the fear of what lies in the dark consuming your thoughts, while you lie on a thin blanket praying that you will make it through the night. This is the reality that many homeless Australians experience on a daily basis.

We see people taking great pride in Australian values such as mateship and cheering for underdogs. We hear them say to help those who are in need, so why are we still blaming and stigmatising our most vulnerable people, the homeless, who need our support the most?

After walking down the streets of Perth City and observing the public I realised there were three types of ways that people usually regarded homeless individuals; (1) they completely ignored their existence, (2) they gave up their loose change or (3) they simply looked down upon them in disgust, as to say “you chose this life for yourself, so why do you expect me to feel sorry for you?”

According to the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics report, there are currently 105,237 (56% male, 42% female) homeless people in Australia. 17,845 under the age of 10, with 402 of those sleeping out on the streets.

There has been a reinforced stigma for a long time that all homeless people are drug-addicts, when in reality these people come from all sorts of situations. According to Homelessness Australia, 24% of homeless individuals come from domestic or family violence situations, 20% experienced financial difficulties and 16% are homeless due to the housing affordability crisis.

In Australia there are also many who are on the brinks of homelessness. According to the Ubanks’s Science of Spending and Saving Experiment, 1 in 3 (around 35%) people are living pay-cheque to pay-cheque.

So why don’t homeless people just get a job?

One of the major myths surrounding people experiencing homelessness is that they’re lazy and ultimately don’t want to get employment. What many fail to realise is that finding a job while experiencing homelessness is extremely difficult.

Education is a fundamental step in finding work and many on the streets don’t get the privilege of adequate education. According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, homeless youth may drop out of school due to the disruption of being homeless or due to the stress of becoming homeless while completing their education.

In order to get a job in Australia you need to have a resume, tax number, clean clothes and some sort of (semi-permanent) residence. As of September 2017 the ABS has reported 5.5% unemployment rate, but most of the unemployed are not homeless.

Mental health is also an obstacle that those who experience homelessness may have to battle with. According to the 2013 NSW Health Commission Report, an estimated 50% to 75% of homeless youth have experienced mental illness, the most common being depression and anxiety.

According to Beyond Blue, depression can lead to a lack of motivation and from there people people often experience the inability to do basic tasks such as: bathing themselves, washing their belongings and even eating. Homelessness is also known to bring upon and increase the intensity of these symptoms as noted in the NSW report.

Having experienced the job searching process, and knowing first-hand how difficult it is getting a job even when you have all the right documentation and are mentally well, it makes me empathise with homeless people who have it harder than I do, and certainly not shame or degrade them.

So what can we do to support our homeless? 

  1. Educate yourself: First and foremost, remember that we are all human and have all been through hardships and failures. Understand that everyone has their own story and that people never intentionally ‘choose’ to become homeless.
  2. Donate or volunteer: Volunteer your time at homeless shelters or donate old and unwanted items to homeless organisations such as Mission Australia.
  3. Be kind and respectful: Treat people experiencing homelessness with respect and try to strike up a conversation with them. Homeless people often feel isolated from society therefore, by having a single conversation with them you may make their day.
  4. Speak up for them: Attend your local council meetings and let councillors know just how hard it is for the homeless and advocate for more homeless programs and shelters. Remember that Australia has signed two treaties; the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Right of a Child (CRC), both of which are designed to protect human rights. One of these rights is that every single person has the right to an adequate standard of living, which also incorporates the right to adequate housing. So by allowing 105,237 people to sleep on the streets and potentially exposing them to dangerous situations, we are essentially violating their right to an adequate standard of living.

Remember its always easier to be the person who points the finger and judges others and their decisions. Helping out another person, who is going through something as challenging as homelessness doesn’t have to be hard. In the end it could not only make that person’s day, but yours too as you would have made a difference in someone’s life, even if it was only for those two minutes that you spent talking to them on the street corner.

 

 

 

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Quality journalism by ECU students
COMMENT: Stop the stigma on homelessness