Supporting those who have no shelter goes to the core of what Jesus was on about.
1 John 3:17-18 “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
The problem of homelessness is huge and growing. In Australia, on any given night some 106,000 people or 1 in 200 people are homeless; 56% are male and 44% female and about 17% of these are children under 10 years old. How these chilling statistics can be tolerated in a wealthy democratic society like ours seems unfathomable. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that the problem is escalating and between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, homelessness grew 13.7% and it continues to increase.
Why are they homeless?
Overwhelmingly homelessness is not by choice. Indeed only 1% of the homeless chose to be itinerants. Most people are homeless because of domestic and family violence (24%), financial difficulties (20%) a housing crisis or inadequate dwellings (27%), other relationship issues (8%) or health issues (4%). Young people are particularly vulnerable, with about 26,000 aged 12-25 homeless on any given night, some 70% of whom left home to escape violence or family breakdown. Importantly, there is a serious disconnect between the public perception of why people are homeless and the reality. In research undertaken by LightSpeed GMI in 2016, 48% of the public thought alcohol was a likely cause of homelessness, however it only accounted for 4% of the problem. Likewise, 30%, 62% and 50% of the public thought drugs, gambling and mental illness were likely causes of homelessness, whereas they accounted for only 6%, 0% and 6% respectively. This misconception is probably because much of the homelessness problem is hidden from the public. Indeed, only 6% of people who are homeless actually sleep on the streets. Most you wouldn’t see or know they’re homeless. Perhaps because the public only sees the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and therefore doesn’t pressure government, funding for homelessness has been lagging. (Federal Government funding for social housing and homelessness has decreased by 16% in the last 5 years.)
Impact of homelessness
Homelessness results in significant social and economic costs not just to individuals and families, but also communities and the nation as a whole. On an individual level homelessness makes it difficult to maintain school or further study and leaves people vulnerable to long-term unemployment and chronic ill-health. Some health problems are a consequence of homelessness including depression, poor nutrition, poor dental health, substance abuse and mental health problems. Australians experiencing homelessness are often excluded from participating in social, recreational, cultural and economic opportunities in their community. On a national level people who are experiencing homelessness are more likely to interact with a number of government agencies, such as police, Department of Community Services, Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Corrective Services, Courts, Legal Aid, Department of Ageing, Department of Health, Housing, and Centrelink. Research has found that the cost of rough sleeping to the community is in excess of $27,000 per year, with the cost increasing the longer a person is homeless. The current shortage of affordable and available rental homes is continuing to make getting out of homelessness more difficult for people.
What needs to be done?
According to Homelessness Australia, preventing homelessness is not as simple as getting people jobs or building houses. There are a number of investments and commitments required. These start with Australian State and Federal governments and include maintaining current public housing stock and delivering at least 20,000 new social and affordable housing dwellings each year. Increased funding for homelessness prevention and early intervention programs with proven records of success and for research to measure and maximise the effectiveness of homelessness spending is also needed. While our governments have a crucial role, homelessness is everyone’s responsibility and you can read much more about what you can do about it on www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au Next year MUC is hoping to play an active role in supporting homeless people within our ambit. To do otherwise, would go against the very essence of our faith and the values of all with a heart for those who are poor or marginalised.