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Why Homelessness Means a Shorter Life and What Night Nurses are Doing to Help

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Sleeping rough in winter is tough and it takes a toll on health, with research from overseas indicating that homeless people have a life expectancy of between 43 and 47 years. Untreated chronic illness, wounds, and even minor infections, that most people think we left behind in the earlier parts of the 20th century, can turn deadly.

One of the big challenges is that people sleeping on the street are moved on or temporarily housed in the outer suburbs and are generally disconnected from the basic services they rely on, including health care.

Thankfully, there are committed teams of medical professionals and support workers working day and night to treat the medical conditions of rough sleepers, where they are. That’s why we are supporting three of these angel projects this month – in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne.

I spoke with Richard Goonan, Operations Manager of Community Health at Youth Projects in Melbourne – and asked him why health is such a big problem for rough sleepers, and what he’d say to anyone who thinks homeless people are choosing that life.

What is Night Nurses?

Night Nurses are a team of committed professional nurses who walk the streets of the CBD every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from – 7pm to 11pm.  It is an extension of our daytime Primary Health Service called the Living Room located in Hosier Lane (both projects have been supported by StreetSmart).

We are trying to provide services with 24-7 coverage because the nature of homelessness means people are not always around during a standard 9-5 day. People who are homeless are very mobile, and it’s often safer to sleep in the day. Officials moving people on is also an issue that pushes people out of reach of services during the day.

Who are your patients?

The people experiencing homelessness are very diverse, and the pathways into homelessness are very complex. What we do know is that the people who are long-term homeless and rough sleeping are the most vulnerable group.

A high proportion of have come from a state-care background, have significant experience of trauma, and a well-developed distrust of authority. Importantly this group are all but shut out the housing market.

By providing essential health care, with a holistic focus on wellness, our Nurses and Living Room staff can create trust, and develop long-term relationships that can get people with very well-founded fears of state services connected back into support systems and most importantly – off the streets.

Aside from that, many of the people we support – on a day to day basis don’t have anyone calling them by name so it is really important for us to get to know the people we work with. We address their health issues, but we also care about their interests and where they want to go in life.

What is their background?

It’s important for people to understand that alcohol and drug abuse, and mental health issues are major symptoms of homelessness, not the cause.

The predominant view is of a drunk hobo on the street, but that’s far from the reality. By providing essential health care, with a holistic focus on wellness, our Nurse and Living Room staff can create trust, and develop long-term relationships that can help get people, with very well-founded fears of state services, connected back into support systems.

Aside from that, many of the people we support – on a day-to-day basis – don’t have anyone calling them by name. We address their health issues, but we also care about their interests and where they want to go in life.

What would you say to the average reader who thinks homeless people are choosing that life?

First, we always need to acknowledge that people are not choosing to sleep on the street – but they are choosing not to take assistance on offer. That might sound contradictory, but what is usually offered is cheap, unsafe accommodation that takes them away from their network, which is a strong and supportive community.

During some of the public campouts that ended up moving people on – there were very public pronouncements made by officials claiming that rough sleepers were turning down housing support.

Some want to leave homelessness as soon as possible, and some feel safer and more supported on street. But every one of them is making an informed choice. They’ve been in every type of accommodation, and they’ve been in unsafe situations, and have the right to turn down deeply unsatisfactory shelter that comes at a high personal risk.

We need to remember where these individuals have come from, what they’ve experienced and that they have very well-founded reasons to disengage from the institutions that have caused them significant harm.

This is why long-term, holistic support is needed with a focus on rebuilding trust. The evidence is there to tell us this, and yet we still have a system that bounces people around like they are numbers.

Secondly, I would tell people to forget the predominant view of homelessness – a drunk hobo on the street yelling profanity at passers-by. It is now men, women, families with children experiencing homelessness and it’s not all visible on the streets.  It’s also important for people to understand that alcohol and drug abuse, and mental health issues are a major symptom of homelessness – not the cause.

Where will the money raised for Night Nurses go?

It will go a long way to providing the basics needed for keeping people healthy and well. That might be as simple as snacks for diabetics, providing a wound dressing, or socks for people whose greatest challenge is keeping their feet protected from ‘trench foot’  – a condition that was originally used to describe what happened to men in the trenches of WW1.

We need to ensure our Nurses are properly equipped with the tools they need to treat people effectively, and this grant will make a good dint in our equipment needs.

 

You can support this AMAZING project here:

Watch a Youtube as they treat people on street, or read these wonderful pieces on SBS and ABC News.

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LGBTI youth are more likely to experience homelessness.

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This 17th May is #IDAHOBIT International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia. That’s why our monthly StreetFunder campaign is supporting Open Doors Youth Service Inc, a safe space and lifeline for LGBTI young people in Brisbane.

To shine a light on the experiences of young LGBTI people we dove into the research and had a chat with Open Doors General Manager Chris Pickard.

LGBTI youth are more likely to experience homelessness.

The big data sets on homelessness have so far excluded sexual orientation and to fill this gap new research has been investigating the issue. A recent study found that LGBT people are at least twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to experience homelessness and are more likely to experience homelessness at a younger age.

Sadly the main reason cited for homelessness among queer youth is ‘running away’ due to rejection and fear of reprisal or being kicked out of home. When forced out of the family home, the majority of these young people end up couch surfing, rough sleeping or in boarding houses, all of which can be not only precarious but dangerous.

This is why Open Doors focuses a lot of its efforts on educating schools, health services and families. Chris says that for many parents the biggest issue is simply lack of understanding of what their child is going through. “Some basic education can go a long way to creating a safe, accepting environment at home.”

LGBTI youth are at a higher risk of alcohol or drug abuse, and suicide.

Amid the ugly debates around the Same Sex Marriage vote, we forgot that there were young people listening and hearing the message that they are not normal, accepted, or safe.

This type of messaging is part of the reason why LGBTI youth and those who don’t ‘fit-in’ with rigid social ideas about gender are more likely to attempt suicide and to develop substance abuse issues than heterosexual peers. A new study of  young people aged 16-to-25 found that 43% of LGBTI people were at high risk of dying by suicide, compared to 23% of heterosexual people.

The reasons for this boil down to what psychologists call “minority stress” – the experience of rejection, bullying, discrimination and prejudice. When simply being you become a cause of potential harm from others, young LGBT people turn to risky means to cope or to give up altogether.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that family acceptance and inclusive school and work environments have the power to save lives. Educating communities and families is central to suicide prevention, and when in crisis, Open Doors also step in to support young people who are at especially high risk.

LGBT youth have poorer mental health and are more likely to attempt suicide

Given that LGBT youth are more likely to experience violence, discrimination and homelessness it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that this trauma is not good for their mental health.

About 50% of LGBT youth experience anxiety compared to 39% of their heterosexual peers, and about 30% experience bipolar or PTSD, which affects 9% and 17% of their peers respectively.

All of these numbers stack up to clear evidence that social norms, structures and dynamics at home, school, work and out in public spaces are dangerous for LGBTI youth.

Trans and non-gender-conforming young people are most at risk.

Chris says that transgender and gender diverse young people are at higher risks of finding themselves homeless, and are at high risk of violence, theft, and bullying in most crisis accommodation setups: “In terms of safe housing for trans and gender diverse young people, there is next to nothing. We have two safe referral points and if there are no free beds it is often safer for us to prepare them to sleep rough until something becomes available.

Sadly that experience is also occurring within homelessness services traditional options – like boarding houses, emergency accommodation or crisis centres – which are dangerous places for LGBTI people. While outright discrimination has been reported, even a simple lack of understanding can place transgender clients at risk. Trans women are at a high risk of violent assault when forced into male-only boarding houses.

In the rental market, discrimination is standard, with visibly non-conforming young people competing with heterosexual, high earning candidates for a dwindling supply of affordable housing.

Acceptance and safer spaces save lives

During the Same Sex Marriage campaign, LGBTQ services experienced a surge in demand for their services. Major advocacy organisations believe the successful Yes vote will halve the number of LGBT suicides. They have cause to hope because this has happened across US states that have legalised same-sex marriage.

That is a big hint that change does not exclusively start at home –  the big stuff matters too. The tone of our public discourse sets the standard for what happens at home, and in our schools. What happens in those spaces determines whether a young LGBTI person feels safe, accepted and able to succeed – or put down with bullying, violence and discrimination.  Genuine equality is more than wedding vows, it is the right to live free from violence and harassment, and to have a safe place to call home.

There is something you can do

There is a long way to go to create a safe environment for LGBTI people, and youth in particular. More specialist services that understand their specific needs and experiences is a big step in the right direction. There are few specialist homelessness services for LGBTI youth, and Open Doors is leading the way, in Brisbane. While they do all the hard stuff, the simple act of providing a safe space is often enough to change a young person’s journey.

“Many young people will have never met another queer person, let alone been in a room full of people who also identify that way. For their entire life they’ve been an outsider, confused and excluded. When they come to us, you can see the change in the way they carry themselves with a new confidence. To be part of a community, feel welcomed and not alone. It’s huge.” – Chris

 

Here are some actions you can take if you want to support vulnerable LGBTI young people. 

Support Open Doors by donating to our StreetFunder campaign

Support the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia here.

Be a positive voice for inclusion in your homes, schools, and workplaces.

 

 

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Youth Homelessness and Leaving Care: The Case to #MakeIt21

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In the 5 years between the 2011 and 2016 Census, youth homelessness (18-24) has increased a staggering 46% to 27,680. In unaffordability hot-spots like NSW it has increased by 117%, and has even increased in states like Tasmania where the overall rate of homelessness is down. Each of those numbers represents a young life negotiating the transition to adulthood without a safe place to call home.

The reality is that we are failing our young people – sky-high rents, a casualised labour force, deregulated and underfunded higher education are just some of what waits for young people entering adulthood today.

If you’re not yet convinced that we have legislated away the potential for independence – let’s look at the general population for more insight. Read More

5 Questions For Government On Indigenous Housing

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In 2011 the WA government implemented a ‘big stick’ approach to public housing evictions. Because Indigenous people are more likely to require public housing, and more likely to have complex issues – the practice has meant more Indigenous evictions. The First Nations Project have proven that the big-stick is unwarranted. By providing the assistance a family needs, like property maintenance and psycho-social support they need. The Project has prevented 100% of evictions and achieved this result with an army of volunteers and very little funding. When the taxpayer bill for every eviction is $40,000 and comes at enormous cost the family, we have to ask – who is it really helping? Read More

Seventy and Homeless for the First Time: The Rise of Older Women’s Homelessness

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While the stereotypical face of poverty is a older man – a lifetime down on his luck, the fastest growing demographic of people experiencing homelessness is single women over the age of 55.

For 15 years StreetSmart has been funding smaller grassroots organisations on the front line of community services. In recent years we have supported a number of services that are raising alarm bells about the scale of the issue, and the need for urgent reform. Read More

Tackling Homelessness in the Suburbs

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So-called ‘tent city’ on the doorstep of the Reserve Bank in Sydney and Flinders Street in Melbourne has generated a lot of media, and heavy-handed responses from public institutions. But sadly, homelessness in metro Australia is just the tip of a much greater problem.

A recent report by the Council for Homeless Persons found that 37% of rough sleepers are in the middle and outer suburbs, whereas only 8% of people sleeping rough gravitate to inner metro areas.

“Rough sleeping in the CBD and central areas has a lot of visibility and media coverage, but there are a lot of rough sleepers in the outer suburbs,” says Jay Church from Anchor Housing, an organisation servicing Melbourne’s Yarra Ranges, and our StreetFunder supported project this October.

The Yarra Ranges includes the very outer urban fringe and semi-rural areas. The region ranks highly housing stress, which is estimated to sit at 30.3%. It also ranks in the top 10 areas for socio-economic disadvantaged communities nationally.

“The Yarra Ranges includes pockets of deep poverty and a highly vulnerable demographic,” Church said. “Coupled with the cost of private rental, the capacity to meet that cost is simply out of reach for lots of people.”

Suburban homelessness is increasing in lockstep with rising housing prices, stagnant wages and, below poverty level income support payments. In areas with few job opportunities, and poor amenities, services like Anchor Housing are a lifeline for people doing it tough.

The Rough Sleeper Initiative engaged rough sleepers in Melbourne, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Yarra Ranges. They found the majority of people were on some form of income support, and in labour force. “This picture supports a conclusion that labour market conditions and low-income support payments are drivers of increasing levels of homelessness and rough sleeping,” the report said.

Anchor Housing provided 1,839 bed nights in 2016/17 and about 46% of those helped were already homeless when they presented. The other 54% are part of a growing demographic of the ‘almost homeless’ – people in deep financial stress and at risk of losing their home.

Deep cuts to the federal social services budget over successive years has stripped away the ability of many services to assist people in crisis who need assistance with bills, rent, medicines, food and other basic needs.

We have been funding homelessness organisations for fifteen years, and the sad reality is that it is getting worse, not better. More and more people require help to meet very basic living costs, and often small amounts of funding are all that stands between someone having a home and them ending up homeless. Meanwhile, services are having their funding cut, or left in a constant state of limbo.

StreetSmart has supported Anchor with $15,900 in community grants since 2006 and will be supporting Anchor again this October to try and redress the black hole funding cuts have left in their material aid budget. That means a food voucher for a young family in crisis accommodation or financial assistance to keep up with the cost of private rental.

We support people who are experiencing homelessness to get back on track, including people are rough sleeping. We also do a lot of work with people at risk. Preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place is a key.”

If you want to support Anchor Housing to maintain vital material aid, you can donate to our October StreetFunder here.

 

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SeedFunding Youth Homelessness Services to Break the Cycle

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On any given night 26,238 Australians aged 12-24 are homeless. These young people are more likely to leave school, experience long term unemployment, and are more likely to experience persistent homelessness in adulthood.

The main risk factors that lead to homelessness among young people include: family violence, child abuse, parents with alcohol or drug issues, and mental illness. That is to say – young people who experience homelessness have the odds stacked against them from the outset.

For those subsisting on Youth Allowance, the average rental will cost a young person 63% of their income. To put that in context, a person is generally considered to be in housing stress if they pay 30% of their income or more on housing. Entering the private rental market with no rental history, no employment history, and insufficient income support make the odds of getting out of the homelessness trap seem insurmountable. That makes getting educated, and getting into secure employment a high priority.

The Barwon South West Homelessness Network are in the business of making a dent in these struggles – with supported housing, and assistance from case managers. What they lack, is adequate funding to support young people to get back to school, or find secure employment. When the statistics tell us this is one of the greatest barriers young homeless people face, we think more can be done.

“Across the network we constantly face the issue of not being able to provide support for things like getting some new clothes, a haircut, or a taxi voucher to get to an interview. There are funding streams available – but they are not able to meet that critical response. Going through the other funding streams cannot get this done.” -Andrew Edger, Barwon South West Homelessness Network Coordinator.

Andrew is also a key resource person for StreetSmart, sitting on our Victorian Grants Committee providing expert advice on the needs of frontline services. StreetSmart CEO, Adam Robinson and Andrew have been brainstorming ways to practically assist young people to move beyond homelessness. What is missing is being able to respond quickly to what young people need. It could be preparing for an interview across town in 3 days time, or new uniforms for an apprenticeship.

“With a patchwork landscape of funding, and the specialised needs in the homelessness sector – StreetSmart is here to step in and fill the funding gaps. In collaboration with the The Barwon South West Homelessness Network, we are seed-funding a coalition of specialist youth homeless services to set up the “Now I am Ready” fund, enabling services to meet the cost of work and education support. That could be a TAFE course, a new uniform, or a semester of prescribed textbooks. Ideas like this need community backing so that young people are supported at the right time and in the right way.”  – StreetSmart CEO, Adam Robinson.

With many homeless young people lacking family support or a social safety net, it is up to us – the community – to support them when they need it most. And Andrew has a whole of community firmly in mind.

“We want to develop a whole of community response. Getting local business involved – whether it’s free haircuts, discounts on textbooks, or supporting us through matching what the public are giving to get this idea off off the ground.”

We think instead of missing out on important life opportunities, Australia’s young people deserve a leg-up.  We 110% support innovative solutions taking action against homelessness, and with the help of our StreetFunders, we have set ourselves a $10k target for the “Now I am Ready” fund, to help over 50 young people.

If you want help seed fund this new project and give young people the support they need you can.  Individuals can donate here, and businesses can donate and help us match funds raised from the public by getting in touch with our CEO Adam Robinson.

 

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Street Socceroos Ready to Kick Goals at the Homeless World Cup

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When so much attention on homelessness surrounds the eviction of rough sleepers from major cities, or the doom and gloom of housing (un)affordability – it’s good to shine a light on some positive actions that are changing lives.

At StreetSmart, we proudly support new ways to tackle homelessness and have provided seed funding for ideas like Orange Sky Laundry, Fare Share and HoMie which have all gone on to make meaningful community impact. Another program that has grown in leaps and bounds is the Big Issues Street Soccer program.

For people experiencing homelessness, sport can deal with one of the biggest hurdles – social isolation. By connecting with peers, people have the opportunity to develop something many of us take for granted – social support systems. That’s not to mention the health benefits, which are a key focus of the program.

George Halkias founded the program in 2005, with a little kick start from a StreetSmart grant. It is now a nation wide, weekly program, and the team has participated in 7 Homeless World Cup’s and hosted the Melbourne 2008 games. The team are now in training for this years tournament in Oslo. 

“It’s more than a sports program – it’s about being a community that is supportive of their health and wellbeing. Health outcomes are really important to the program and sport is a great starting point.”

George and the coaching team do more than teach the game – they provide mentoring and create a culture of inclusion. Their aim is to create a place that players can feel safe to tackle the opposition, and some of their more complex issues, like mental health or substance abuse. This way, they aim to support the players to re-connect with services and get on the path out of long term homelessness.

StreetSmart is supporting Street Soccer again this month – with our StreetFunders donating coin to support players returning from the Olso Homeless World cup in September.

“Supporting players to transition back, post World Cup life, is really important. The cup has a big build up, lots of energy and excitement. But generally we find players experience a drop when they come back, like anyone does. So we are looking to strengthen the transition back – whether that’s job support, training, or whatever is needed to keep the positive momentum.

After the cup, we focus on new goals, and keep building on skills and confidence that has come from travelling the world and representing the country.”

We are hoping to raise $7,000 to fund the Street Soccer transition program – and you can chip in too here. If you are not certain how impactful a simple game of soccer can be, don’t take it from me, take it from the players:

Sometimes people don’t understand when I try to explain how important soccer is to me, but it has dead-set helped me change my life.” – Street Soccer player.

           One Month = One Project Funded

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Housing Affordability is a Nation Wide Issue

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Source: Council for Homeless Persons

We know that the number of people trapped in the cycle of chronic homelessness is on the rise. It is one of the most visible social problems we face today. Lack of affordable housing options is the number one cause of homelessness, and it’s a nation wide issue.

Away from the streets the majority of homeless people are surviving in severely crowded dwellings, refuges, and other forms of crisis accommodation. Many of these options are not only temporary – they are unsafe.

Then there are the Almost Homeless – low income earners battling unaffordable rents and an absence of alternatives. Those people represent an incredible one in ten households – that is 850,000 people who are one more rent hike away from homelessness.

While our urban centres are certainly the most unaffordable – the squeeze is spreading further and further out. The last Census found that 60 per cent of Australians sleeping rough were outside the major cities

Mandy Booker at Homeless Hub provides frontline services to the homeless population in the  -Illawarra region, and free outreach services to the growing number of people who are at risk of becoming homeless. In the Illawarra region, around 1000 people are homeless each night, and the Homeless Hub is a lifeline for many of these people. 

“There is a lot of media around prices and the lack of affordable housing. But it is so much more than sound grab – it is a deep problem that is hurting so many people from all walks of life.”

Many smaller townships like Wollongong are absorbing large numbers of people who are migrating in search of cheaper accommodation, safety, and accessible support services.

“We see lots of people who are migrating in search of safety, support and the hope of more affordable housing options.”

But even in regional Australia private rental options are too expensive – or simply unwilling to take on lower income tenants. Social housing stock is at historical lows with waiting lists ranging up to 10 years. Even the UN is concerned about the boiling housing market, lack of social housing, and its impact on average and low income earners.

We echo the position of the Council to Homeless Persons that we urgently need leadership on a National Affordable Housing and Homelessness Strategy. We need strong funding arrangements for the states to support local services.

Right now, the not-for-profit sector is shouldering the burden with ever shrinking government support. The majority of the programs we provide grants to have no public funding. StreetSmart grants are able to fill the gap with the support of businesses and individuals who are concerned about what is happening in their communities.

Homeless Hub is one of the services doing what it can, with the resources they have, to try and ease some of the pressure people in housing stress are facing.

“So many people are just barely keeping a roof over their heads. They are being priced out of their homes. Rather than wait until people become homeless, we really need to provide support for them to stay housed.”

This month our StreetFunder program is supporting Homeless Hub with a grant for their mobile outreach program. If you want to lend a hand, you can find out more here.

 


StreetFunder crowd sources support for grassroots projects that work to combat homelessness.

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