The campaigns to end homelessness must be relentless. It is up to us to make governments respond to the will of the people. The Federal Government, in December 2014, de-funded Homelessness Australia, the peak advocacy body. Homelessness Australia operates on a voluntary basis, credit to them, and has no employed personnel.
Governments have a bent to smash both systemic and community advocacy. We must stand in the way and ensure the multitude of voices are heard.
As a youth and homelessness advocate, we must be relentless in speaking out. We need to understand our youth are at higher risk to suicide than else. The leading cause of death for 15-to-24-year-old youth, is suicide. In 2019, 461 youths died by suicide. The trend continues, in fact is worsening. Half the homeless are youths aged 25 years or less.
The tips of the icebergs are the street homeless, who are these days termed ‘rough sleepers’ – they comprise according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 7 percent of the homeless, and according to some researchers, up to 15 percent. A quarter of the homeless are aged 18 years and less. There are also 16,000 children in some form of homelessness aged 12 years and less. Forty percent of the homeless are aged 24 years and less. Homelessness is increasing.
Addressing homelessness in Australia must not be about metrics, data analytics, research nor about funding homelessness support services. It is about ‘priorities’ and the political will. Case in point, is during last year’s initial Covid19 lockdowns and state and territory border closures, four Australian states brought off the streets and out of other unstable precarious circumstances 40,000 souls, while Western Australia only supported 20 street homeless individuals for one month only during the Covid19 lockdown.
The 40,000 who were supported into hotel accommodations proves where there is a will, there is a way. The Western Australian Government proved the homeless are not an inherent priority.
One year later, a third of the 40,000 rough sleepers who were interim accommodated during the Covid19 pandemic have been supported into permanent housing or lodgings. It took a pandemic to house 13,000 people who without the pandemic the majority would still be homeless. This goes to the points of priorities and political will.
We need more dose of political will.
Obviously, there needs to be a supply of public and social housing, but once again this only takes political will.
Finland found political will to end rough sleeping in Helsinki and in reducing homelessness throughout Finland by more than 40 percent during the last several years. Great Britain too, is at long last ‘prioritising’ the homeless. Alas, not Australia.
Great Britain had long accepted visible homelessness, makeshift shelters throughout its cities and towns. But the fear the Covid19 coronavirus strains could be super-spread through rough sleepers, Great Britain got off the streets during last year’s lockdowns more than 15,000 rough sleepers. Despite the logistics, it was done fast and effectively and once again this goes to the point of where there is a will.
I work with Perth’s houseless and street homeless. My eyes have seen their harrow. I am shy of 21 years of life, still a youth, but have spent the last decade understanding the homeless, who are our poorest citizens. My parents both work alongside the homeless, the seriously at-risk, and have supported many people from street homelessness to a home, education and employment. For two years, I volunteered with an eviction prevention and tenancy stabilisation service. My mother, Jennifer Kaeshagen, ran the First Nations Homelessness Project. Thereafter, I joined my father, Gerry Georgatos, as a Support Admin and thereafter as a Programs Manager at the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.
I have seen with my own eyes, homeless toddlers, children, and this at first shocked me but always breaks my heart. I have seen with my own eyes, young and older homeless women after being bashed and raped. The end of the eviction ban in for instance my home state of Western Australia, means more toddlers and children will finish up rough sleeping. The end of the eviction ban means many more women, young and older, will finish up homeless, many of them bashed and raped.
The political will should be one which maintains eviction bans, invests in tenancy stabilisation, in intense psychosocial outreach and psychosociality supports in general, in increasing welfare payments, indeed in bringing about a universal wage, in building 150,000 public and social homes and ending all forms of homelessness. These are the protections which will guide us to a civil and just society, to respect for one another.
I can write about the horror stories of life on the streets, life on the breadline, but surely the majority of Australians know them. Yes, the stories need to be read, heard but where we must focus on is in the holding of our governments to account, cornering them into action, into building the array of public and social housing we have for so long lagged further behind with each year passing. All Australian governments – state, territory and commonwealth – must go from laggards to leaders – to visionaries – on public and social housing.
Connie Georgatos is a youth and homelessness advocate and a Project Manager with the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project.