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This Adelaide Charity Is Quietly Transforming Lives and Attitudes about Homelessness.

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Photo by: nowandthenphotography.com.au

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.

Cos We Care started when Ann and a friend decided they wanted to do something positive for the estimated 152 people sleeping rough in Adelaide and surrounds. They prepared some bread rolls, cookies and boiling thermos and started approaching local businesses to spare a roll of toilet paper, a beanie, or whatever they could manage.

“We didn’t have a lot back then, but we made something of what we collected and just started walking around meeting people, and offering what we had.

We felt so great about it, we just wanted to do more. We couldn’t wait till the next Sunday to come – and we just kept on doing it.”

Photo by: nowandthenphotography.com.au

Their impromptu outreach was about more than providing material aid – Ann wanted to do something about the isolation and loneliness people who are homeless experience. By asking approaching local businesses and total strangers to donate some food, a gold coin, or their time, Cos We Care is working to build a community where no one suffers the pain of isolation just because their circumstances have led them to homelessness.

“We don’t go to Foodbank, everything we get is donated from local people and businesses – it’s about getting people to be involved.

We now have about 30 volunteers – covering different things – sorting, distribution and helping out on the weekends. We have people who cook, share equipment, help set up, it’s a big community of people involved. That’s what makes it what it is.”

Now Cos We Care operates a weekly community breakfast in the local parklands and they now have about 80 regulars every Sunday. Ann is passionate about the Care in their name – and what it can do to change people’s lives.

“You never know where someone has come from, but everyone deserves care, and when you show that it changes everything.”

People sleeping rough or experiencing chronic homelessness are a small percentage of overall homelessness, but are more likely to have experienced significant abuse and trauma, and struggle with untreated physical or mental health issues. It’s easy to judge someone on the street for being ‘rough around the edges’ – but showing a little compassion to someone who may have rarely experienced it is much more helpful.

“I will never forget one fella had quite a bad attitude when he came to our first few breakfasts. But he kept coming, and we knew he’d come from a tough place – so we just kept reminding him that we are here because we care. After a few weeks, he had totally changed. He has beautiful manners, shows up early every Sunday to help out, and makes sure he thanks everyone by name. All it took was a little decency – we showed him respect and care.

It’s the little things that make a difference – care doesn’t cost you anything, but it’s so powerful and we need more of it.”

With the help of our StreetFunder community, we are supporting Cos We Care along with three other projects this month. Christmas is a busy time for the services we support and Cos We Care are no exception. They have been busy collecting food for hampers and will be holding a Christmas lunch in the park. Ann will be using the StreetFunder grant to give people something they may not have had before – a choice.

“When you’re depending on charity – so much of what you get is often the only thing on offer. The people we help are very grateful for that – but I’d love for them to buy something they really want – something they chose. That might be something they need, or a gift for a nephew, or something they just really want. I’d love for people to have that choice, that would be really wonderful.”

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4 Projects Lending a Hand To Those Doing It Tough This Christmas

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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.

Here is a little about each of the projects, who are serving up community dinners, putting together hampers and making sure their communities most vulnerable have a pressie under the tree this Christmas.

Manna Gum Community House is a  is a small not-for-profit located in Foster, South Gippsland. They provide an increasingly busy emergency relief service to people in need in the local community.

Lack of access to transport to reach the larger service towns in the district, lack of housing and rural isolation are common issues, and through their drop-in centre and community kitchen, the Manna Gum Community House is a vital service for many locals.

“There is a shortage of housing and many people that come to us are either homeless or living in transitional housing. Every year, as we approach Christmas, we experience an increase in demand for our services. This year we will distribute food hampers at a Christmas Community Lunch in December, part of a monthly pop-up cafe program that provides a hot meal and social connection for regular clients and the volunteers.” – Rebecca Matthews, Community Development Coordinator, Manna Gum Community House

Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre is based in Brisbane and provides counselling and medium term supported accommodation to young women who have survived sexual violence and those experiencing homelessness. Sadly, demand for their services increases dramatically over the holiday period and their staff are determined to make the period a safe, and joyous one.  

“The generous offer from StreetSmart of financial support over the Christmas period could not have come at a better time! Christmas is a difficult time for many of the women and children we help and we always see increased demand for our service. This extra funding will allow us to purchase essential items such as food, clothes, nappies, and children’s items, and to top up phone credit. We also host an end of year Christmas event for the young women and their children who have accessed our support programs throughout the year, and this provides an opportunity to connect, check in with them and distribute the emergency relief food vouchers and other items your funds will resource.” – Stephanie Anne, Manager, Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre Inc

Cos We Care are a small volunteer-run organisation that provide high-quality community meals and much-needed items, such as toiletries and clothing, to the homeless and vulnerable in Adelaide and Elizabeth. They support a regular community of around 200 people who attend their Sunday lunches and depend on donated goods to make it all happen. Funds raised through StreetFunder will help provide their regular Sunday community with a gift they can choose themselves.

“When you’re depending on charity – so much of what you get is often the only thing on offer. The people we help are very grateful for that – but I’d love for them to buy something they really want – something they chose. That might be something they need, or a gift for a nephew, or something they just really want. I’d love for people to have that choice, that would be really wonderful.” Ann Cooper – Cos We Care

Coast Shelter is the largest provider of meals to those in need on the NSW Central Coast, operating every day of the year. Last year over 50,000 meals were provided to those in need in addition over 1,300 hampers to struggling families at risk through their community kitchen, Laurie’s Table. They run ten refuges across the Central Coast providing over 200 beds for young people and adults, and crisis accommodation for women and children escaping domestic violence.

“Christmas is by far the time of greatest demand on our services – providing meals but especially hampers to those in financial stress. StreetSmart’s assistance gives us the ability to lift the spirits of the people we help. Last Christmas we had in excess of 250 people attend our lunch and dinner sittings, which are managed by volunteers from the community.  We believe it’s vital to show the meaning of Christmas, of love and goodwill to our fellow man. This funding will make that one day just that little bit more special.” – Chris Holstein, Coast Shelter.

 

You can chip in and support these wonderful community organisations that are making Christmas a little brighter here.

 

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Shared Living – a Solution to the Housing Crisis?

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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.

Homeshare is an international concept that originated in the USA, and was designed to match an older person (or a person with a disability) with someone who can provide support, practical help and companionship. Home Share Melbourne is taking the model and expanding it to match people from all walks of life – and provide a possible solution to the current housing crisis in Melbourne. With over 1 million homes in Australia with 3 or more empty bedrooms, we think it’s an idea worth backing.

HANZA Inc (the Homeshare Australia and New Zealand Alliance) has been supporting and working with organisations across Australia and New Zealand since 2000 to set up home share programs and now it is launching its own program – Home Share Melbourne.

Carla Raynes is one of the founders of HomeShare Melbourne and has over a decades’ experience working in frontline homeless services – both here in Australia and in the UK.

“The face of homelessness has changed in Australia. It’s hitting more people – with many experiencing homelessness for the first time in their lives, especially those over the age of 50. I see people every day who just need a safe place to stay so that they can continue to be valuable members of the community. Homelessness services are overwhelmed and are putting people into completely inadequate environments such as private rooming house which is often dangerous. We need to think of an alternative way to house people.”

HomeShare Melbourne is aiming to be part of the solution by carefully matching Householders willing to open their homes to someone who’s at risk of facing housing crisis, such as asylum seekers, people over the age of 55 and young people with limited supports.

There is a trend towards single occupancy homes, and according to 2016 Census data, an estimated 24.4 % of Australians live alone, with the average lone Householder being a woman over the age of 60 years. Many lone Householders are maintaining 2-3 bedroom properties, wanting to stay in their own home and in their familiar community. Home Share Melbourne sees this as an opportunity.

As I wrote last week, the permanently inflated housing market is responsible for  the increasing number of people paying 30% or more of their income on rent. We can see this clearly in 2016 Census data, which shows a clear correlation between the cost of housing and levels of homelessness. Being employed used to provide a buffer against homelessness, but with exorbitant rents and flat wages, a shocking 30% of people experiencing homelessness are in fact employed.

These seemingly separate problems may in fact point to a solution – as Carla points out “There are many benefits in sharing for Homesharers, Householders and the wider community. Homesharing can support people to live at home for longer, can help Householders cover rent and bills and can support people to access safe and affordable housing at the same time.”

The benefits of matching people with room to spare with those in need of affordable housing are not the only social good the Home Share Melbourne team are hoping to provide. “We want to not only combat homelessness – but social isolation and an increasingly disconnected community.”

The model is simple. Home Share Melbourne carefully matches a Householder with someone looking for affordable housing (Homesharer), and they can agree to provide 0-10 hours of support to the household, and depending on that commitment they will pay some nominal level of lodging fees.

“Actually lots of people still share homes – students and young people – and it’s seen as a safe thing to do. We complete a rigorous process of police checks and reference checks to provide an increased level of security for everyone in the household. We will screen, interview and skillfully match people to create sustainable accommodation.”

The program will support the matches for at least 6 months, and their “aspiration is to create matches that are so successful they don’t need the program anymore.”

Home Share Melbourne is planning to make 75 matches that support at least 150 people in a 3 year pilot period. The pilot will run in the City of Port Phillip (Melbourne) and surrounding areas, which has one of Melbourne’s lowest proportions of affordable new lettings and expand from there.

Home Share Melbourne is ready to be launched and it will be a grant from StreetFunders that gets things up and running.

“This is huge for us – we just need a teeny weeny cash injection to get started and prove that this works. With this funding, we can launch with our first matches, prove the concept works, and start throwing our hat in the ring for ongoing sponsorship and support. ”

 

You can join the community of StreetFunders getting Home Share Melbourne off the ground here

You can also support Home Share Melbourne by voting for it in the Pick My Project government grants initiative. Your vote will help the program secure a years’ worth of funding,

If you are interested in taking part in the pilot get in contact with Home Share Melbourne here

 

 

 

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Housing and the Myth of Trickle Down Economics

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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.

The most recent Demographia report on the state of housing affordability ranks all of Australia’s five major housing markets as severely unaffordable. According to Demographia a ranking of 3.0 (or lower) is considered affordable, while a ranking of 5.1 (or higher) is severely unaffordable. Sydney ranks an incredible 12.9, Melbourne fairs slightly better 9.9 – and regional centers like Ballarat and Bundaberg rate as severely unaffordable at 5.4.

If we reach as far back as the 1960’s (when the majority of sitting MP’s would have been entering the housing market) housing prices have surged by a massive 6,556 percent.

As house prices have soared, those that would have previously been able to own their own home are pushed into the private rental market. Up to a third of Australians now expect to rent for life. This trend can be seen most clearly in the most unaffordable areas, where there is a close relationship between the median house price and the percentage of people in private rental.

The Poor Are Paying the Price

For the 1.86 million people dependant on Centrelink, or the 1.9 million workers estimated to be subsisting on the merger minimum wage the recent tiny dip in the median house price is unlikely to bring much reprieve to their rental bill.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute suggests as much of 14% of the population are in dire need of affordable housing.

According to Anglicare’s recent report on housing affordability, a single person on a low income will find less than 0.01 percent of rental vacancies affordable. Depending on how badly you fair on the low income scale, you may find up to 6% of properties affordable. But as the report notes, low income earners are in direct competition with people on much higher incomes looking to reduce their own cost of housing. It’s not hard to imagine that the majority of low income earners land on the bottom of the application pile.

Low income households will find little reprieve in public housing, which has largely been abandoned. While social housing has increased – total stock has not kept pace with the demand. Victoria has just 80,311 public or social housing properties, while the the population grew 125,000 last year alone.

The impact of these big picture trends is that it is pushing low income and working poor households into homelessness. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 288,000 people required assisted by a homelessness service in 2016–17.

Behind those statistics are those that are not seeking assistance, or are sacrificing other basic needs like food, heating or medical care to maintain their rent.

Some are Even More Vulnerable

Some people are more likely to end up shouldering the burden of the housing crisis.

As I wrote earlier this year, older women experiencing homelessness has risen 31 percent in 6 years. Women over 60 are the lowest earning group nationally and having led conventional lives, raised families, worked part time or in unpaid roles – they have retired with less savings and assets than men their age. Underpaid, with little savings, facing a permanently inflated housing market, older women have been thrown under the bus by prolonged government inaction.  

Migrants are disproportionately likely to end up homeless. According to the last Census, 45 percent of people who are homeless are migrants. Language barriers are a contributor, but discrimination in employment, working rights, and visas linked to violent partners are all part of the picture. While overt race-baiting has become a deplorable feature of political discourse, many migrants are shut out of the basic benefits of Australian society. As Homelessness NSW state:

“Depending on which category of visa [someone holds] their visa conditions may mean they cannot legally work, access Centrelink, Medicare or government assistance to undertake education or training.”

Young people are especially vulnerable to the shifting dynamics of a predatory economic climate. While more young people are forced to stay home for longer, many lack this choice. Family breakdown, violence, or the entire family falling into homelessness are big drivers of homeless among young people. While the demonised by politicians and media outlets alike for being lazy and entitled, most young people are justifiably worried about their futures. Facing an insecure labour market, woeful levels of income support, something as basic as housing security starts to feel like an impossibility.

What is the Root Cause and How do We Fix It?

The state of housing is not simple, and is made up of a complex interaction of policy levers across State and Federal governments. Issues like land supply, tax incentives and the increasing insecurity of work and flat wage growth all contribute to the current crisis. To cut through the noise, it is more useful to look at what broad priorities have been set and who they advantage.

Over several decades voters have been sold the lie of ‘trickle-down economics.’ This myth has justified tax breaks for property investors over investment in public housing, concessions to top earners paid for by the poorest workers, the list goes on and on

As wealth inequality widens it’s getting harder to conceal the fact that the benefits of such policies trickle up, not down. As Anglicare stated in their report:

“Simply put, current government policies mean that billions of dollars more of public funding goes towards supporting housing investors, rather than ensuring everybody, including people on low incomes, has a home.”

This hits at the heart of our national failure – we have fostered a housing market that privileges investors, promotes speculation and cataclysmically fails to treat housing as a fundamental right as basic as food.

This crisis has been decades in the making, but with a dedicated realignment of priorities, it can be fixed. Advocates have been pushing for a National Housing Strategy that would remedy trickle up failure and restore some basic fairness to the housing system. Federal Labour is promising to roll back negative gearing and reform capital gain tax, and if elected should be held to that promise. But we also desperately need to increase the poverty level welfare payments and to create conditions for ongoing secure employment. After so much dog-whistling targeting minorities, young people and the poor, we need a massive shift in our national consciousness. That will take genuine leadership, perhaps the sort that is naive to hope for. But with an early Federal election on the cards, with voters fed up with the status quo, we are overdue for a radical change.

At StreetSmart we believe everyone should have a safe and secure place to call home.  Housing is a human right and is the foundation for building relationships, connecting with community, engaging in education and work and having a stable and successful life. 

What you can do to help…

Join the community of StreetFunders helping HomeShare to get people out of rental stress here

Sign the Everybody’s Home Petition and demand action on housing here

Find, and contact your Federal MP here

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5 Things You Need to Know About Housing First and Homelessness

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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

Most people who experience long term rough sleeping typically have complex trauma.

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.

 

 

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3 Life Saving Projects in 3 Cities

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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.

 

 

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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.

By | StreetFunder | No Comments

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