Volume 8, Issue 2
In recognition of Homelessness Prevention Week, an annual awareness and action campaign set up by Homelessness Australia – the national pea advocacy body on homelessness – De Minimis presents an articles by Alexandria Anthony, discussing an issue which affects thousand of Victorians, especially over the winter months
As Melbourne experiences some particularly cold nights, it’s impossible not to consider the plight of the homeless. Most winter mornings as I exit Melbourne Central, rushing towards the law school and its warmth, I pass sleeping figures, buried under a blanket or two in an attempt to achieve some level of comfort and privacy, or sitting up, eyes downcast, hoping someone will offer them some spare coinage. But instead we head towards our heated offices, classrooms and workplaces, clutching our coffees, wrapped in coats and scarves, having had a good night’s sleep in a warm bed, trying to forget and ignore the sad figures. I know that I could search my wallet for some spare change but that’s not going to change the problem.
They still won’t have a job or security and it won’t remove whatever issues caused them to fall into this unfortunate position. I ponder all these problems, but within minutes I’ll have forgotten them as I go about my life, my mind again returning to other concerns, like rushing to get across the street before the green man turns red and stops flashing.
Yet here I am again thinking about what I can do. I could donate some time to helping the homeless. But I’m short on time and there are so many other causes. I could donate some money. But the reality is I don’t personally have the means to make any real difference to the overall problem. Besides, it still wouldn’t be enough to get to the heart of the problem, because people don’t just become homeless because there aren’t enough people willing to help.
They face difficult mental health issues, domestic violence, addiction, depression and relationship breakdowns. They can’t get work. They have a job but they can’t make enough money to get secure housing. They have fallen down a hole so deep they can’t find their way out without significant aid. And the average person probably isn’t going to be able to help them with these issues on their own.
However, I truly believe we can make a real difference to fixing this problem. Several states in America have taken some really significant steps towards helping their homeless population get their lives back on track. In Utah, ‘Housing First’, a strategy of housing people has actually managed to save taxpayers money, while reducing chronic homelessness by 72%. This is because simply providing homeless people with the basic means of survival (homeless shelters and soup kitchens) actually costs more than providing them with housing. And once they have their own housing, it’s much easier for them to deal with the issues that caused them to become homeless in the first place.
The most incredible thing about this is that someone acting from purely financial motives should support such an approach. And that’s why this same approach is now being followed in other parts of the US.
Meanwhile in Australia and Victoria we are cutting back many of the services that are most likely to help the homeless. Why are we doing this? To save money apparently. Doesn’t make much sense really, does it?
But then, it’s easy to explain it. This sort of action requires the government to act, not cut. And there isn’t the political will. The government isn’t going to engage in that sort of spending if it isn’t in their interests. But by the time there is any real financial benefit from such action the government will probably have changed, and let’s face it, homelessness is not a big enough issue for most people to really care. There isn’t going to be the political pressure that we see for marriage equality. Marriage equality is easy to care about. We all know people in happy same-sex relationships and it’s pretty easy once people get past their prejudice to recognise that they should not be subject to arbitrary discrimination. Even if it doesn’t directly affect you, it probably affects someone you care about. And advocating for marriage equality is easy in a society in which most people support it and when recognising marriage equality doesn’t really require you to do anything, or give up any of your money or time (assuming you don’t get invited to same-sex weddings).
But giving homes to the homeless, well, that just seems radical. People shouldn’t be given things they didn’t earn, right? We all work hard to be able to get a home, to pay the bills, the mortgage, to be comfortable, so why should others just be given a home?
Well, this is why: being safe and secure is a basic human right. Even if you don’t like the language of human rights, you can probably agree that we should not just sit back and let people die when we could easily help them. If you came across someone bleeding to death in front of you, I’m guessing you would help. And if someone came to your door, starving and freezing to death, you would probably at least give them some food and offer them help to find shelter and warmth for the night. Perhaps in the form of a blanket.
So if you were told you could actually help give that person somewhere to sleep for the night, and it was going to cost you less than if you simply provided them with food and a blanket, why would you not say yes to that, especially if you knew that by doing so, you were more likely to help them get into a position where they didn’t have to ask for help anymore?
You might ask how can we give someone something for free, something more than they actually need to merely subsist, when we can’t satisfy all of our own needs and desires that we’ve worked towards? Well, it makes no sense not to do so when it is costing you less and you get the satisfaction of making a real difference in getting people’s lives on track. So why not try it?
Alexandra Anthony is a second-year JD student.