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By Vidi Chandra, John Kerrens, Amber Fry and Daniel Wilson


August was our coldest month and the one in which the issue of homelessness was brought to front of mind by National Homeless Persons Week 4-10 August.

The week was born of the winter vigils held by churches and missions for those overtaken by the elements. It reminds us that homelessness impacts our community and we can’t afford to ignore it.

With over 105,000 Australians homeless this winter we need to be looking at how we can support people experiencing homelessness.

In this feature we reflect on just a few of the different ways our community contemplated homelessness, including the ‘No Fixed Address’ art exhibition, ‘Heart of St Kilda’ charity concert, and St Kilda footy players serving food at the Sacred Heart Mission.

Port Phillip Council was engaged and actively supporting some of the initiatives during this week. Mayor Amanda Stevens was eager for residents to connect with members of the community who are often ignored or forgotten.

“The City of Port Phillip is not shut-off from homelessness. Council understands that tackling homelessness requires a whole of community approach and that can only happen if the community is engaged,” Cr Stevens said.

Art and stories:

Each year the Inner South Rooming House Network launches an awareness campaign to highlight the impacts of homelessness in our community and to help us understand the surrounding issues.

This years ‘No Fixed Address’ exhibition celebrated the stories of individuals regardless of their experience of homelessness and asked us to consider the loss of identity experienced as a result of homelessness.

This exhibition was about Mothers, Grandfathers, musicians, writers, athletes and professionals. People like you and I, people with friends and families who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless at some stage.

Mayor Amanda Stevens said the stories in these artworks “engage us, and they’re important reminders that homelessness holds no prejudice and can affect anyone”.

Artist Katie Lockett spent July visiting local rooming houses and homeless services, talking with members of the community about their stories, and this exhibition was a culmination of that process. Katie was overwhelmed by the generosity and openness of those involved in sharing their experiences with her.

Designers Jessica Wood and Verity Kimpton creatively mounted the works which were exhibited in window spaces provided by supportive local traders in St Kilda.

Each piece gave the viewer insight into the talents and lives of those who often go unseen and unacknowledged, reminding us of both the diversity of people who find themselves homeless and the similarities to our own lives.

Music and comedy:

Each year the St Kilda News team attends the ‘Heart of St Kilda’ concert at the Palais Theatre. It’s an amazing night of music and comedy that is held to raise the awareness of homelessness in our community and collect funds for Sacred Heart Mission’s meals program that serves meals to the homeless and disadvantaged every day.

The night opened with banging drums and whaling bagpipes. Brian Nankervis, of Rockwiz, hosted the event, which included comedians Julia Morris, Greg Champion, Elliot Goblet, Tegan Higginbotham, Dean Atkinson, and Tripod.

Other musical acts included The Basics, Colleen Hewett, Vika and Linda Bull, Dick Diver, Ashley Naylor, Uncle Jack Charles, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Billy Miller, Rebecca Barnard, Tim Rogers, The Caravan Choir, and Phil Ceberano.

All these artists gave up their time in support of the Sacred Heart Mission. When asked why, Dick Diver said: “Because nearly everyone who has experienced homelessness has been exposed to scary and awful situations that nobody should have to face”.

The eclectic mix of acts made for an evening that anyone would enjoy. As Ashley Naylor put it: “The best thing is the variety of acts all coming together in the spirit of the evening. Artists from different corners of the music and comedy worlds share the stage like an old variety show”.

Food and footy:

St Kilda Football Club set out on a “mission to tackle homelessness”. During the week of August 4-10, the club recognised Homeless Persons Week and the important role that Sacred Heart Mission has in the community; providing meals and social support for the homeless and excluded.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, St Kilda Football Club CEO Matthew Finnis and St Kilda players Jimmy Webster and Eli Templeton served meals at the Sacred Heart Mission to the homeless and disadvantaged during Homeless Persons Week. The packed-house event was a great success and once again consolidated the club’s role in supporting the homeless and disadvantaged through the Sacred Heart Mission.

As St Kilda Football Club CEO Matthew Finnis said: “St Kilda Football Club is proud to have the Sacred Heart Mission as its heartland charity partner. As a club, we are passionate about breaking the cycle of homelessness, and the dining hall service provided by Sacred Heart Mission is a pivotal way to help and support those who need it the most”.

The story of the Sacred Heart Mission started in 1982, when Parish Priest Father Ernie Smith, motivated by the gospel message: “…for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to see me,” opened his door and shared a meal with a man who was homeless.

Today it provides a vital support service, including a meals program that serves 160,000 breakfasts and lunches each year to people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. Their mission is to build people’s capacity to participate more fully in community life, by addressing the underlying causes of deep, persistent disadvantage and social exclusion, and they achieve this through a variety of different ways.

What can we do?

Homelessness Australia suggests you donate to some of the key organisations that deal with homelessness, such as the Sacred Heart Mission. You can donate money, clothing and food as well as volunteering your time and expertise.

You can educate others and help to dispel the stereotypes of homeless people (every situation is unique) by understanding the individuals and realising that we are not so different from each other.

The problem is that many have already made up their minds about homeless people based on presumptions and stereotypes the media peppers into everyday life. But the truth is that homelessness not only happens indiscriminately, it happens for a wide variety of reasons, many beyond the control of the affected. There is no one reason why someone is homeless, it is often the result of a number of complex issues which can include: domestic or family violence, poverty or financial crisis, long term unemployment, economic and social exclusion, a shortage of affordable housing, as well as mental illnesses and psychological distress.

Once homeless, a person quickly finds themselves isolated. They can feel alone and disconnected from the community. Whatever problems caused by having to sleep rough can get compounded by the situation.

Acknowledging someone positively can make a difference. So perhaps the next time you venture down the street, before simply stepping past a person who calls the pavement home, remember that they are just a human being with a hard luck story that happens to be worse than yours.

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