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3 August 2021
Jed Donoghue (left) with Jade Munnings, Salvos Housing Coordinator, at the Australasian Housing Industry awards 2019.
This National Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2021), the Salvos are calling for a national commitment to end homelessness in Australia.
Dr Jed Donoghue, Acting General Manager of Homelessness at The Salvation Army, explains that the governmental COVID response to primary homelessness during 2020 showed it is possible to house and support our homeless population and, by extension, prevent premature deaths due to homelessness. What is needed, he says, is government and community commitment.
This year, the focus of the Salvos through National Homelessness Week (NHW) is around the notion of ‘home’ – a simple but powerful concept.
Home provides a foundation for employment, education, family and community engagement, warmth and safety. It serves as a secure base from where one can access health services, employment and training.
From the Salvos’ perspective, a major focus of this NHW is education and advocacy around the issue of premature death due to homelessness.
We can all take steps – be it the government, community agencies or individuals – to better engage and understand this issue and act to prevent people from dying.
The fact that even one person dies on the street as a result of homelessness is a national tragedy. Sadly, it is a widespread and under-reported issue.
If you think about some of the extreme weather conditions during winter and summer in Australia, it’s plain to see the adverse impact on the health of those sleeping rough or in inadequate housing.
Then there is the potential of violence and abuse, difficulties accessing appointments with doctors and other service providers, general lack of food – let alone nutritious food, substance abuse and chronic health issues, including mental health issues.
There is a range of factors that lead to or increase the risk of homelessness.
Some of the contributing factors can include relationship and family breakdown, loss of or insecure employment, or health issues – which can make it extremely difficult to meet and maintain the cost of living, including housing.
To combat this, we need a national bi-partisan approach from our government that says, ‘homelessness in this country is a national shame and, as the government, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable’.
It is vitally important to set tangible, accountable outcomes and then act – including to significantly increase the stock of social housing, which is the best safety net for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that the issue exists and not judge without understanding. We can all read, learn, listen and ask.
We all have the chance to reach out to our local, state and national parliamentarians, and all we have to do is look at how the government responded to the public health crisis of COVID-19 – acting quickly and mobilising people sleeping rough – off the street and into accommodation with support.
We can also have conversations with friends and family, or, if possible, talk to someone who we see is sleeping rough, and offer to get them a cup of coffee or a meal, or assist them to get to an agency.
In our social housing and homelessness sector, we have seen remarkable transformations take place. When a person secures a home, it can make a huge difference to their physical and mental health, bring a sense of hope and security, and potentially improve their family and community connections.
So, this NHW, please get involved, please get engaged, and please speak out – for the sake of the most vulnerable in our community. We are talking about the lives of our fellow Australians, our fellow human beings, and the fact that a home – or lack of – can be a matter of life or death.