Homeless Australia: “You must always be vigilant” | Business and Economics
In Australia, more than 116,000 people are homeless on any given night, and this number has been rising. As this country commemorates Homelessness Week, we told some of their stories.
Melbourne, Australia– Few people would consider sleeping on public toilets, park benches or traffic islands as “lucky”.
But this is how the 50-year-old Phil, who asked us to use only his name, viewed his ten years of being homeless on the streets of Melbourne.
“I’m lucky because… I have never been robbed or attacked or anything like that,” he explained.
We are talking on the phone and cannot meet in person due to the COVID lockdown in Melbourne.
For most residents of the city, the months-long blockade posed a major challenge. But Phil said he was responding calmly and was spending time watching wrestling matches on TV.
Now settling and working in Big Issue magazine, which raises funds for marginalized and homeless people, he looks back on his years of miserable sleep.
“It’s really scary. You don’t know who is outside. You don’t know if anyone will kill you, rob you, or beat you. You must always be vigilant.”
Melbourne is often touted as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and this is true for most people. The city has many restaurants and bars, hosts international sporting events, and has a thriving art and music venue. Built around the picturesque Yarra River, it is also filled with parkland that is offset by impressive skyscrapers. The vast outskirts extend to the surrounding beaches, jungles and hills. These areas are the traditional land of the indigenous peoples of Ulun Geri and Buen Ulun.
But despite the obvious wealth, the last census in 2016 showed that nearly 25,000 people were homeless in Victoria, most of them in the capital Melbourne. For people like Phil who end up sleeping on the streets, Melbourne is far from livable.
In addition to the threat of robbery or assault, Phil said that he can’t sleep well every night “It’s really uncomfortable because you don’t have bedding. [and] No money.” He explained that contracting flu and pneumonia in cold weather is also a risk.
From foster care to transportation island
Phil’s path to homelessness began when he was young.
He grew up in a foster care facility in Adelaide, but left when he was 18, and the state government is no longer responsible for looking after him.
Phil returned to Horsham, a small town in northwestern Victoria, to live with his biological family, but was unsuccessful.
“I don’t want to stay with them at all,” he said of his family. “It’s too difficult, I don’t want to cause trouble.”
In one “argument”, Phil left and moved to Melbourne, where he moved between different rental houses and other forms of temporary housing, and ended up on the streets.
He said his family did not know where he lived during this period.
“I didn’t tell them at all, I kept everything secret,” he explained.
At one stage, he had no accommodation, no photo ID, and no money.
“I decided to sleep on the traffic island,” he said. “When I slept on the street without blankets, clothes or the like, I had to sleep on the traffic island in the middle of the road.”
He said it was the safest option because it was open and brightly lit. He explained that other areas, such as parks, may be more dangerous.
Phil’s homeless experience and the people he met on the street showed him that stereotypes of homeless people are often wrong. He explained that homelessness can take different forms and affect very different people, adding: “Every story is completely different.”
However, it is obvious that the number of such stories is increasing.
The Victorian Parliament’s recent survey on homelessness confirmed that in the five years since the 2016 census, the number of homeless people has increased, with 1 in 57 Victorians in 2018/2019 Services for the homeless with government funding.
The investigation also admitted that this number may be underestimated, especially considering the impact of the recent summer bushfires and COVID. And the increase is not limited to Melbourne or Victoria.
The number of homeless people across Australia is on the rise. The 2016 Census showed an increase of nearly 14% in five years.
This statistic is even more alarming considering that Australia ranked the highest median wealth per adult of any country in the world in the 2018 Global Wealth Report.
However, although the average house price in cities such as Melbourne and Sydney hovered around the million dollar mark (approximately US$737,000), on any given night, about 1 in 200 people in Australia is homeless.
Homelessness can take many forms. The Australian Bureau of Statistics describes anyone who “has no suitable long-term accommodation options” as homeless.
This includes people who live with friends and family in temporary and emergency homes (“couch surfing”) or overcrowded homes.
Although “rough sleepers” like Phil may be the most noticeable, street-sleepers account for less than 10% of all homeless people.
These include an increasing number of women, immigrants and refugees, young and old. Indigenous Australians make up a particularly high proportion of these figures. Although they account for only 3.3% of the Australian population, they still account for 20% of all homeless people.
Anna Paris is the operations manager of Sacred Heart Mission, a Melbourne-based non-governmental organization that provides a range of services for the homeless, including meal plans and safe houses for women.
She said that homelessness is usually the result of a combination of factors, including domestic violence, childhood trauma, mental health and substance abuse. She specifically pointed out “long-term traumatic experiences-especially early childhood trauma-and trauma that people accumulate when they are homeless.”
A recent parliamentary survey report stated that in 2016-17, at least a quarter of people who sought help from homeless services said they had a mental health problem.
The investigation further pointed out that the isolation and trauma of homelessness can lead to the onset of mental illness. Organizations such as Open Minds stated that homelessness itself can lead to anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia, and often leads to drug abuse to cope.
Anna says it is this combination of complex trauma that exacerbates the experience of homelessness and may lead to long-term post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Very often [people] It’s because they have been affected by too many things over a long period of time, so they came to us with PTSD or a real long-term experience of poor mental health,” she explained.
However, although the root causes of homelessness may be diverse and complex, Anna said that, fundamentally, Australia’s homelessness rate is increasing due to the chronic lack of affordable, safe and secure housing. rise.
“Personal carrying them may cause [at a homeless service] On any given day,” she said. “But there is a serious shortage of affordable housing. “
Anna believes that obtaining stable and safe housing lays the foundation for people to seek support for mental health problems, receive education or find a job. However, if there is no home, “people are in survival mode every day, wanting to know where they sleep at night, they want to eat, can they take a bath, and where their belongings are kept.”
“I think people have also lost hope because of the serious shortage of housing supply,” she said.
“Big House Construction”
Across Australia, there is an estimated shortage of 200,000 units of social housing and affordable housing, and this number is expected to increase to 600,000 units by 2030.
Victoria is the main part of the shortage, with approximately 100,000 people on the waiting list for public housing.
Kerry Slane is an outreach worker for Launch Housing, a charity for the homeless in Melbourne that aims to end homelessness.
She acknowledged that the reasons for people’s homelessness are complex, but said that “the lack of public housing and affordable housing in Melbourne” is one of the biggest problems.
Kerry said her clients often jokingly told her that they wanted to be “on the waiting list for public housing” when they were born, “because by then [they] Is 30 or 40 [they] Will get a home”.
Victoria has been criticized for not only being the state with the worst housing shortage in Australia, but also spending the least on solving this problem. However, the government has recently taken action to correct this problem, held a parliamentary investigation of the homeless in the state, and announced an increase in funding for the construction of new public housing.
Fiona Patten, who led the survey, said that the process of the survey mainly depends on the opinions of people who have experienced homelessness. They all say “give us a home.”
But in addition to checking housing supply, Patten said the investigation also asked, “How can we help that person not become homeless?”
The survey put forward 51 recommendations, focusing not only on housing supply issues, but also on how to address the root causes of homelessness.
They were released after the government announced that it would build 12,000 new affordable houses.
The project is expected to cost 5.3 billion U.S. dollars (3.9 billion U.S. dollars) and will provide priority groups with housing priority, such as women who have suffered domestic violence, indigenous people, and people with mental illness.
However, despite the investment, there is still a huge gap in social housing. The Australian Institute of Housing and Urban Studies estimates that 166,000 housing units will need to be built by 2036 to meet demand.
‘They have a smile on their faces’
Before getting help from the charity organization St Vincent De Paul, Phil spent more than 10 years sleeping on the streets, surfing on the sofa or living in temporary dormitories.
A case worker from the organization assisted Phil with the paperwork for housing applications. He thinks he will wait 10 to 15 years on the waiting list, which is the shortage of permanent public housing in Melbourne. But six years after applying, he finally received a letter telling him that he had gotten a permanent home. He now lives in an apartment in a block on the outskirts of Melbourne.
He can still be found on the street where Big Issue is sold, but he no longer sleeps on it.
In addition to selling the magazine, Phil is also one of the organization’s classroom educators, teaching children about homelessness.
“I like to do this,” he said of selling Big Issue on the street. “My music accompanies me, so I also sing and dance. If people are grumpy in the morning, it will put a smile on their faces.”
This series was supported by the city of Yarra.