Cos We Care is a small Adelaide based charity that’s transforming lives and community attitudes about homelessness.
I spoke with one of the Founders, Ann Cooper about how she came to start Cos We Care and how it’s quietly transforming people and community in Adelaide. Read More
Although Christmas is a joyful time for many of us, it can be a very difficult time for many. Financial pressures, social isolation, and family separation increase dramatically over this period, making it one of the busiest times of year for the projects and services we support.
That’s why we have a number of ways to lend a hand to those who are doing it tough this holiday season – with DineSmart in full swing and StreetFunder supporting four projects to help meet the demand of Christmas – there are lots of ways to pay it forward. Read More
Over the last few decades, there has been an increasing trend towards living alone or with immediate family. However, the increase of the sharing economy has been changing that. The founders of Home Share Melbourne think there is much to be gained from rediscovering shared living, and that it might be a big part of the solution to the current housing affordability crisis. Read More
While the Australian electorate is still seething from the knifing of yet another sitting Prime Minister, there is no sign the freshly conservative face of the federal Coalition is likely to attend to voters most pressing concerns: insecure work, the cost of living, good public healthcare and education, affordable housing and wealth inequality. While politicians in Canberra have been busy wrestling control of government, an estimated third of the population are in rental stress. Read More
1. People need a Safe Permanent Home Before Other Supports.
Housing First is an evidence based model that tells us something that’s pretty intuitive – people need a stable roof over their heads before they need anything else. Shelter (and food) are the core needs of every individual without exception.
This sounds pretty straight forward, but our approach to homelessness in Australia has grown to work in reverse. Over time government responses to homelessness have begun to treat those experiencing it as personally responsible. Rather than seeing the bigger picture (like the cost of housing, domestic violence etc) successive governments have resorted to victim blaming – requiring people to fix their personal deficits before they can be housed.
As Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, editor of the European Journal of Homelessness told Probono Australia: “[Homelessness] is about dysfunctional housing markets and dysfunctional services rather than dysfunctional individuals”
2. It Works for People Who’ve Been Chronically Homeless
Sadly, much of this has been experienced in the care of Government institutions such as the state care system, prisons, hospitals and a long series of difficult interactions with other public services. Mistrust of police, hospital staff, and even homelessness services is common and difficult.
Long term rough sleepers are survivors and do need additional supports – like drug and alcohol treatment, life skills training or mental health support. The housing first model does not discount the need for specialist interventions. It says that for people to recover – they need housing first. StreetSmart has been supporting the successful implementation of Housing First projects for many years, such as through Micah Projects in Brisbane.
3. It Works for People Who Have Been Priced out of Their Homes
One of the reasons homelessness is on the rise is because of the sky-rocking cost of housing across the country. This is affecting people who might not ordinarily find themselves homeless – including low waged workers, young people, older people and those that find themselves on the economic margins but are otherwise usually able to maintain housing.
Jumping in quickly to rapidly rehouse people works to keep people out of homelessness. It prevents the vicious cycle of poverty and homelessness from wreaking havoc on people’s lives. It works through simple measures like short term financial assistance, advocacy with private rental, and getting people into public housing. Not everyone requires intensive support, but some do.
4. It’s Cheaper
Homelessness creates a huge cost to people, and also to public spending. It can be difficult to put an accurate number on the cost of homelessness because its effects are deep and far reaching. It pushes people into hospital emergency departments, contact with the justice system, creates demand for expensive temporary accommodation and creates a system that maintains rather than ends homelessness.
It’s easier to imagine the true cost of homelessness at the individual level. Earlier this year we supported the First Nations Homelessness Project to prevent evictions in Perth. By spending $400 on maintenance they saved the Department of Housing the $40,000 cost of eviction. They prevented Child Protection from stepping in to remove now homeless children from their parents. They prevent visits to crisis services, to Centrelink, and prevent the host of health issues that result from homelessness. Homelessness results in multiple traumas, can cost lives, and it costs a lot of taxpayers’ money.
5. We Already Have Effective Ways to Implement Housing First
Registry Weeks (supported by The Australian Alliance to End Homelessness) enable the use the ‘Housing First’ model by working to mobilise resources at the community level to identify, by name, every individual and family in need of permanent housing, specifically targeting rough sleepers and the most vulnerable.
Understanding the real-time demand for housing and support services in each community assists local organisations and agencies to understand the level of housing and support supply that their community requires to end street and episodic homelessness.
Through knowing everyone by name a community can put a number, names and faces on a seemingly unsolvable problem. While a street count can gauge the extent of a problem, Registry Weeks take that information and turn it in to permanent housing and appropriately supporting each person who is homeless in the community.
Our August StreetFunder campaign is targeting this important intervention and supporting the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness to equip more communities to roll out Registry Weeks and solve homelessness at the local level.
We’ve supported the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness Registry Weeks before. It’s a model that works and really does change lives. They were able to half homelessness in Newcastle within 6 months, securing permanent housing and the right ongoing supports.
Our CEO Adam Robinson says there is no reason this grassroots approach should not be taken up nationally: “The housing first model works, so we need to be asking our political leadership why we are not using best practice, evidence-based models to end homelessness. It is community organisations and some seriously dedicated people at the grassroots that are driving this, and we will continue to support them. For a wide-scale change, this needs to be supported at the State and Federal level”
Ways You Can Help
You can donate to StreetFunder here and empower more communities to roll out Registry Weeks
Sign the Everybody’s Home petition to demand government action here
Check out the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness Here.
Research from overseas suggests that homeless people, who sleep rough, have a life expectancy of between 43 – 47 years. Sleeping on the street is dangerous and creates a host of health issues, and untreated chronic illness, wounds, and infections, that most people think we left to the earlier parts of the 20th century, can turn deadly.
Rough sleepers commonly suffer from untreated mental health issues, injuries, skin infections, poor foot and mouth care, and blood-borne viruses. In winter it’s especially hard to keep on top of even the most minor of ailments, which can become serious problems.
As numbers of homeless people swell, and winter closes in, this months EOFY StreetFunder campaign will raise vital funding for three lifesaving health projects – Night Nurses (Melbourne), Homeless Healthcare (Perth) and Street Med (Sydney) – who hit the streets each night to care for the most vulnerable in our community.
HOMELESS HEALTH – PERTH
Homeless Health is a vital service run out of the back a van by Dr Andrew Davis, and a social worker. They cover drop in centres and homeless street ‘hot spots’. They provide care 365 days a year – including nights, round the clock nurses, support workers, and special support for newly housed people, to help keep them housed. This month we are helping to replenish their medical supplies.
“One of the major issues we face is wounds. When you’re living on the street and you get a cut, or can’t keep your feet dry – the rate of infection is very high and can be fatal if left untreated. That’s why we always need a good stock of wound dressings. The other issue that our patients face is chronic health conditions like diabetes which have been untreated for a long time. Having Diabetes kits available is really essential.” Dr Andrew Davis, Homeless Health.
NIGHT NURSES – MELBOURNE
Night Nurses are a team of committed professional nurses who walk the streets of Melbourne’s CBD every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from – 7pm to 11pm, helping care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. They help support the work of Youth Projects primary health service – the Living Room and the Women’s Wellness Center (both of which have been supported by StreetSmart).
“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 is 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, on the spot, and this grant will make a good dint in our equipment needs.” Richi Goonan, Operations Manager for Community Health, Youth Projects.
STREET MEDIC – SYDNEY
StreetMed Inc. provides street-level first aid, mental health and advocacy for the homeless and at-risk people in Outer Western Sydney. On an average shift, they see 20-30 people and help treat and manage chronic health conditions like diabetes and wounds from life on the street. One of their aims is to equip people with the things they need to treat problems before they get serious.
“At street level, we see a variety of injuries and wounds ranging from minimal right through the spectrum to requiring medical assistance. If our clients were equipped with early intervention measures such as first aid kits, their level of care would increase and the long-term ramifications of infection and medical intervention would decrease. Currently, as volunteers, we have been sourcing first aid kits funded from our own pockets and the response we have received to the few we have handed out has been overwhelmingly positive.” Chris Cleary, Founder, Street Med
These three projects provide vital care for people sleeping on the streets, in parks, under bridges or where ever they can find shelter. As winter sets in the demand for their services increases and these services depend on public support. We believe no one should be sleeping rough, but they are, and numbers have increased dramatically over the past 5 years.
Our aim is to raise $20,000 during June to share across the three projects. All donations are tax-deductible and we’d love your support to help deliver care where it is needed most.
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:
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.