Homelessness – a rich country’s growing shame

It’s the social justice and equity issue the major parties aren’t talking about with their various marketing slogans featuring “a fair go”. And that is having a home, one of the most basic human needs.

While we talk about housing or shelter as a human right, as we should, people crave not just bricks and mortar but the sense of place and belonging. It’s why homeless people gather. Sure there’s safety in numbers when sleeping rough but we need each other and want to be together with others. Surely that is fundamental to a fair go.

These days we – and our governments – are increasingly failing each other and a crisis is upon us. More people than ever sleep rough, in train station tunnels, in parks and cars, on a revolving series of friends couches and floors even on beaches if they can. Over 120,000 Australians – the population of Darwin – are trapped in this needless hell. Increasingly these forgotten people are women and children. Youth homelessness is also on the rise. This escalating but largely invisible human tragedy has caught up significant numbers of military veterans. In this, one of the wealthiest countries on earth.

Disgracefully, Australia has no overarching program for preventing, reducing and dealing with the effects of youth homelessness. And we lag behind our global wealthy nation peers, many by some distance in addressing this tragedy of national neglect.

Once considered to be an inner city problem, homelessness is spreading into our outer suburbs and country towns. Homelessness is no longer rare but shamefully and sadly, close to it being a new, very wrong kind of normal.

The Together Party’s founder and Senate Candidate Mark Swivel grew up in inner Sydney and nearby beaches, familiar with homeless folk in Kings Cross, Woolloomooloo and at the backs of Eastern Suburbs beaches.

“These days I run Barefoot Law, a community legal clinic in Mullumbimby near Byron Bay, a town that now has the most expensive real estate in the country now with a median house price of $987,500,” he said. “Yet down the road we have a serious problem with housing affordability, rental stress and homelessness. For me homelessness is not abstract, I see it every week with our clients, many of whom have mental health challenges, little or no work, in lives torn about by on-going domestic violence. The results being that many of them have no home.”

Swivel singles out the chronic need for emergency housing for women escaping domestic violence and aggressive men, some of those with mental health issues

“One client Bill sleeps in his van in a car park on an isolated road. He has bi-polar disorder and struggles to keep a job or a spot in a share house going,” Swivel says. “He often smokes pot to manage his anxiety but ends up getting into minor scrapes around town. Nothing major but enough to see Bill in the local court and having regular run ins with the cops.”

“We got him back to the mental health team at the hospital who delivered proper treatment, and we helped keep him out of jail. But the fundamental problem is that Bill still didn’t have anywhere stable to live. In a competitive market for emergency accommodation, blokes can be a long way down the list. Bill still struggles and not having a home aggravates his condition.

“Homelessness is primarily related to poverty but not always,” Swivel said, noting that thousands of traumatised veterans come home to no home. “Yet we can find tens of millions of dollars to redevelop our National War Memorial.”

Homelessness should not be the new normal, or just part of somebody else’s life. The solution is not more CEO sleep-outs to raise awareness of the problem; while admirable, the problem has only increased since. It is government that must take an active role to build social and community housing.

Our governments have sold off housing commission properties en masse and not replaced them. We have half-baked under funded band-aids for the homeless when we really need major surgery in the form of an ongoing sustainable commitment to more public housing.

That’s why Together has earmarked $250 million in its Alternative Budget for social housing. The richest 10% of Australians who get tax breaks from negative gearing need to pay their share, countless millions that can be spend on social housing for our most vulnerable instead of beach houses for the well-heeled and inner-city high rises for middle class landlords to rent to young people who cannot afford a home.

The great Australian homeowner irony is that during the last generation property developers have grown rich, as have so many regular Australian homeowners due to the housing boom. Yet all the while the ranks of the homeless in our streets and towns have swelled. There is something very wrong with this picture.

Homelessness is a growing blight on our nation. Whoever is elected as the new government and must begin dealing with this issue from day one with policies to lead us back to an Australian when homelessness was rare and not the inevitable result of policy neglect an d bad decision making that has made poor use of our shared assets and resources.

Together is a new party but not a niche party and has a comprehensive policy manifesto https://thetogetherparty.org.au/manifesto.

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