Homelessness is an extremely complex issue. There are many potential reasons that people find themselves without a home, and, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to homelessness. The short-sighted reaction from police and local government to move people off the street is not only incredibly disheartening, but it will also simply not address this crisis.
22,700 people are currently experiencing homelessness in Victoria, with 1 in 3 of them ending up in that situation as a result of domestic violence and/or relationship issues. Just think about what that means. These people felt that they would be safer at a friend’s house, or in their car, or even out on the street, than they would be trying to stay in their own home.
The next largest group within those 22,700 people ended up homeless after experiencing the full brunt of the current housing crisis. Melbourne is supposed to be the world’s most liveable city, yet thousands of people do not currently have access to adequate, appropriate, and affordable housing options.
These people are struggling. They need our support. Simply moving them out of the city — out of sight and out of mind — will not help them, and will not solve this growing crisis.
Since we first founded 300 Blankets in 2012, our Outreach Team has focused on finding out why and how people end up sleeping rough. Over the last few weeks, while Robert Doyle was giving police extra powers to move people off the streets and introducing the new by laws to ban people from sleeping rough, we were out in the city talking to people. Here are just a few of the stories we heard:
- One man tragically lost all his family and moved interstate to Melbourne in an attempt to escape the memories. He was determined to make things work, but had poor English skills, and suffered from a mental illness. Despite his best efforts, he struggled to stay employed and ended up living on the streets. For a time, he managed to get off the streets after finding a job in a call centre. But, unfortunately, he was retrenched for unknown reasons, was no longer able to afford housing, and ended up back on the streets.
- One young woman had only recently experienced the death of her partner. The enormity of dealing with her grief consumed her, and she very quickly found herself homeless. She currently has a support worker, but the lack of rooming opportunities has left her with no option other than sleeping on the streets of Melbourne.
- One man we have known for many years moves in and out of temporary housing, simply because sometimes it’s safer to be out on the street than in the accommodation that is available. Whilst the cold of winter keeps him in his room, we find him out on the street whenever it is warm enough so that he can escape the constant screaming, violence, and drug abuse commonly found in the kind of housing opportunities that are available to people in similar situations.
While we do not condone breaking the law, the local government’s solution is clearly not going to help these people. There is no doubt that we need more housing opportunities, but a real solution to homelessness needs to have more than just four walls.
What these people need most during a crisis like this is compassion. As a community, we need to reach out and lend a listening ear. Loneliness can be one the most challenging aspects of experiencing homeless. Many people who have experienced similarly tragic stories find themselves developing mental illnesses due to the social isolation that often comes with homelessness. Many of the people who were staying at Flinders St Station didn’t choose to sleep there because of the location itself. They slept there because it gave them the chance to connect with people in similar circumstances. Friendship and human connection is important for all of us, especially when we’re going through hard times.
Instead of moving these people out of the city so that we can turn a blind-eye to what’s going on, we need to turn our heads and listen. We must customise our response in order to provide valuable assistance. We’re all unique. We’re all different. Any kind of solution that attempts to treat everyone the same cannot be called compassionate, and has no chance of actually solving the problem.