Putting homelessness to bed

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By Angela Merriam, Public Policy & Advocacy Advisor, Sacred Heart Mission

From the famous St Kilda pier, Canberra is over 650km away. For many people here, it may feel like a different country – indeed, if this were Europe, it probably would be.

But as we begin counting down the weeks before the 2 July federal election, the symbolism behind those two boomerangs atop our federal parliament building becomes more striking.

More people are homeless in St Kilda than almost anywhere else in the country.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced homelessness, living in St Kilda you can’t ignore the issue.

Doug first slept on the streets at age 12. He used to run away from home when his dad got violent and as a teenager spent several years in state care.

He was put on the Disability Support Pension after a workplace injury several years ago, which leaves very little after rent is paid.

As an unkempt adult with a slight temper, people often don’t know how to respond when they meet him on the street.

Do they see the person behind that protective armour?

A growing body of research has demonstrated a link between trauma and homelessness. In a recent study, 9 out of 10 people experiencing long-term homelessness had first been exposed to trauma as children.

Trauma is also a consequence of homelessness: the streets are violent. At best, it’s tough to sleep, and it’s tough to think clearly without much sleep.

Since 1945, when the federal government first created public housing, they have shared responsibility with the states for funding social housing initiatives.

Since 1974, the federal government has funded homelessness initiatives such as those provided through Sacred Heart Mission.

Housing and homelessness initiatives still require significant funding from the federal government – how are they doing in this regard today?

Wealth insulates us from the political whims and fashions of the day; it can be easy to feel indifferent, even apathetic.

But the abstractions of disenchantment, indifference and apathy with the political process seem to fall flat in the presence of someone experiencing genuine hardship.

Living in St Kilda means that we can’t ignore the outcry of the homeless.

When you go to the polls on 2 July what will be foremost in your mind: the temptation of tax cuts or the plight of the person sleeping on the footpath or in a car?

Sacred Heart Mission was founded as a practical expression of Catholic Social Teaching – of acting for the common good and recognising the dignity of each human person.

But regardless of the religious tradition or worldview that we hold an ancient knowledge still rings true: we’re all better off when we recognise and support those most disadvantaged in our society.

On July 2 we at Sacred Heart Mission will vote to put homelessness to bed. Will you join us?


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