What do you picture or feel when you hear the word ‘home’?
The more fortunate among us think of a sanctuary, a place to go for shelter, support and love. Sadly, for others ‘home’ is unsafe and under threat. It’s insecurity, violence and abuse.
Every night, thousands of Australians experience homelessness. And the people you see living on the street (rough sleepers) are just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Homeless Australia, only around 7% of the people who experience homelessness sleep rough (on park benches, in public toilets, under bridges).
Others stay in overcrowded and inappropriate housing, such as with family or friends. Others couch surf or sleep in a car or makeshift tent.
It’s a vulnerable way to get by. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone should have access to safe and secure housing.
Some organisations wholeheartedly believe that homelessness will end when communities invest in social and affordable housing.
Closer to home, there are things YOU can do to help break the cycle.
First off, what causes homelessness?
You might be surprised to learn why people find themselves without a safe place to stay. More often than not, homelessness is caused by one of the following reasons:
- the housing crisis,
- domestic or family violence,
- financial difficulties, and
- transition from custodial arrangements.
COVID-19 has a lot to answer for. Its less-talked-about side-effects – job uncertainty, worsened mental health issues, substance dependency, and family unrest – have seen the number of people accessing support and emergency relief services skyrocket.
Case in point, between April 2020 and March 2021, The Salvation Army’s homelessness support arm provided more than 25,000 sessions of care compared to the same time the year before.
The reality is: we’re all always a few steps away from being homeless.
You can listen to real stories of people who’ve experienced homelessness on the streets of Melbourne at: melbourne.vic.gov.au
What to do if you meet someone experiencing homelessness:
Have you ever have walked someone living on the street and wondered how you can help?
A simple chat can remind someone that they matter and that they’re not alone. The St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies) says, “The people we assist often tell us how lonely and isolating the experience of homelessness can be. For someone sleeping rough, a simple conversation can go a long way when so many people walk past without even acknowledging them.”
What’s more, “You can ask what they would like to eat or drink, and offer to buy their breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.” If you notice that they have a furry companion, why not pop a few cans of pet food (with the pull-tab lids) in your shopping basket.
Hungry to put a stop to homelessness?
It’s easy to feel helpless when you consider how pervasive homelessness is in our society. But there are things you can do to make a difference.
For example, a few months ago, Inspiro CEO Sue Sestan fundraised over $9,000 to help put a stop to homelessness, all by spending the night outside for the Vinnies CEO Sleepout.
Here are just a few ways you can get involved:
- Donate food, bedding and clothes
- Advocate for more social and affordable housing
- Contact your local MP about homelessness and housing
- Buy a copy of the Big Issue from a vendor
- Join a local community action group
- Volunteer your time with an established not for profit
Wondering where to direct your efforts?
These incredible organisations open the door to support for people experiencing homelessness.
Anchor assists some of the most vulnerable in our community through services including homeless support, foster care, kinship care, community education and family reconciliation.
Working out of our Belgrave Hub, this non-profit organisation connects community and supports people experiencing financial stress, crisis and hardship in the Dandenong Ranges.
The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia has more than 60,000 members and volunteers, who work hard to assist people in need and combat social injustice across Australia.
Pets of the Homeless Australia provides food, veterinary care and other support to pet owners in need. They help people who are at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness by making sure their companion pets are well looked after.
The aim of Sleeping Bags For Homelessness (SBFH) is to provide a new sleeping bag to every person experiencing homelessness and sleeping rough on the streets of major Australian cities.
Launch Housing offers Melbournians emergency shelter, crisis accommodation, specialist supports, and rough sleeping services so those at risk can secure a safe home.
The Salvation Army aims to help people experiencing homelessness find a permanent and safe place to live, a positive community connection, and services to help the underlying reasons for the person’s homelessness.