Why Homelessness?

Why it is so difficult to address homelessness in a society as rich as Australia has always baffled me. Despite the conga line of individuals and organisations that provide services (some government funded and others privately funded), homelessness is and continues to be a major issue. I’ve always thought the privatisation of homelessness is the single most important stumbling block to eradicating this scourge.

Despite considerable amounts of money being allocated to deal with the issue, the number of homeless people continues to grow. Unfortunately, over 50% of the resources allocated go towards supporting a homeless industry that does not have access to permanent shelter.
If they’re lucky, homeless people are put into temporary accommodation a few days here, a few days there, nothing permanent is ever available as public housing stocks are slowly privatised. It doesn’t matter how much food you give people, how much access you give to services, unless the problem of safe secure accommodation is addressed, homelessness will continue to grow especially in an era when governments absolve themselves of the responsibility to provide housing.

You cannot successfully address mental health issues, addiction issues and family violence issues unless people have access to safe, secure housing. The key is secure housing not a motel room or a privately owned and run boarding house but secure housing. Only when the issue of accommodation is addressed can case workers begin to help people address the problems that made them homeless in the first place. The tragedy is the long term costs to the community as well as to the individual who continue to remain homeless far outweigh the cost of providing safe secure housing.

Governments should be in the business of spot purchasing as well as building suitable accommodation, not just for the homeless but for people who will never get a foothold in the housing market. Unfortunately, I currently cannot see State and Federal governments taking direct responsibility for providing safe secure housing. The issue isn’t one of money and resources. The issue is one of political will. In an era when outsourcing and privatisation are the only options that are ever explored by government, it’s no surprise homelessness continues to be a growing issue.

It’s not a matter of being kind to the homeless. It’s a matter of social cohesion. Homelessness has community, social and national costs as well as huge personal costs for people (who in a great number of cases) find themselves homeless through no fault of their own. There are no individual solutions to homelessness. There are no long lasting private solutions to homelessness. The only demonstrable model that works is when governments stop outsourcing their responsibilities and extend public housing to meet current housing demand.

Dr. Joseph Toscano

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