Homelessness in Australia

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I have a friend that I have not seen for a couple of years. He is a really nice guy. He is intelligent and articulate. He is a skilled artist and graphic designer. He is also fairly heavily effected by schizophrenia. He has spent a fair number of nights sleeping in parks, under bushes or sleeping in other people’s living rooms. He slept in mine for a while.

I mention this friend because Australia has a huge problem with homelessness and although the current (and relatively new) Government has assigned this problem as one of it’s priorities, the many reasons and effects of being without permanent residence or shelter are often subtle and highly complex. There are (in a population of some 21 million people) reported to be 100,000 homeless people in Australia, many of these are young people between the ages of 12 and 18. The example of my friend (in his 30’s) shines a light on what is known in the social welfare community (and perhaps unfortunately) as comorbidity – that is the simultaneous existence of multiple problems in the one person, all of which may contribute to each other or to central issues like homelessness. Alcohol or other drug abuse, issues of mental health, trauma from physical or sexual abuse, financial hardship, unemployment, relationship breakdown – these all may be contributing factors in a person’s homelessness.

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Australia is a “lucky country”. We like to say that here. Luck, it seems, is a very relative concept indeed. The property market has made owning a home a very difficult ordeal indeed under the trials and tribulations of a mortgage and the inconstancy of bank interest rates. Renting a place to live can be even harder. In my town, Canberra, there have been many incidents where people actually bid (as though at auction) for the weekly rent they will pay. That we are all just a couple of days away from our own potential homelessness is a frightening fact that should propel us to greater social activism around these issues of homelessness and poverty.

My friend is now somewhere in Melbourne, a large city in the South-East of Australia. I can only hope that with winter coming upon us again here in the Southern Hemisphere that he has somewhere safe and warm to sleep and some resources to feed himself. Home may well be where the heart is, but if home is a cold and barren winter street – where is the heart in that ?

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