Real problems only seen once sun goes down

10 Sep 2008

By The Record

Archbishop Barry Hickey on government responses to homelessness.

It seems that urban homelessness is almost too hard for State or Federal Governments.
A Green Paper has been issued recently by the Australian Government outlining possible strategies. It follows numerous other reports on homelessness that have still left people sleeping in the streets. I am not confident that a new Green or White Paper will make any difference because these inquiries do not highlight the reality of homeless people whom Mother Teresa would call the ‘poorest of the poor’.
Most reports take too broad a view of homelessness. They include overcrowding and long waiting lists for accommodation. While these are valid forms of homelessness they distract from the real homeless who are sleeping in shop doorfronts, alleys, parks and verandahs, including mine. Many of them have addictions, usually glue or paint sniffing, or alcohol. Some have mental health problems, others come from a history of home violence and have to escape.
There are relatively easy solutions to overcrowding. It is a matter of providing sufficient finance for housing, but the will to do so is not there.
Our next WA Government would do well to investigate the problem of homelessness after dark, not during the day, and speak to people sleeping out. It might persuade them to allow at least rough shelters to be made available and to find workable rehabilitation services for people as a step towards more permanent housing. There is almost zero emergency housing in Perth at this present moment.
If the research is done, they will be dealing with mental health problems, zero self-image, anger, despair, sadness, depression and addiction. They will find that most of the street sleepers are Aboriginal. They should count the number of blankets issued each day by the many emergency services, mostly voluntary, mostly with Christian motivation.
They might be persuaded that these people are not hopeless cases, but men and women whose dignity needs to be respected. They will also discover that their concern and their promises will sound empty to these people and will not be believed by them because little has ever happened to give them any hope at all.
They will also find, if they meet them personally, that the answers to their problems are less about money than about love, friendship and inclusion.
Most agencies work 9 to 5. The real problems of loneliness can only be understood after the sun goes down.