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Anti-Poverty Week: Homelessness and poverty

Christine from CHP and Intensive Case Manager Jessica talk about homelessness and poverty

16 October 2019

At the Mission, we know homelessness and poverty are intricately linked. To mark Anti-Poverty Week, Christine, who's lived experience of homelessness informs the Peer Education and Support Program at the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), and Jessica, our Intensive Case Manager, discuss the causal relationship between poverty and homelessness. More importantly, they explain how people can overcome the barriers they face when experiencing these issues.

Homelessness is a result of a complex set of circumstances that force people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs.

Sometimes, a person is only one unlucky life event or one bad paycheck away from finding themselves without a home. People who are experiencing homelessness have often encountered significant trauma and a series of unfortunate events, which have led to their position of vulnerability.

In turn, the issues which often accompany homelessness, such as mental illness or addiction, create barriers which prevent people from bouncing back and participating in the economy and society.

Despite the resilience and best efforts of people, they can find themselves stuck in a cycle of poverty, where they don’t have enough money to cover their basic needs and are unable to secure housing.

With over three million Australians living in poverty today, it is increasingly important to provide pathways to economic participation that support people to move out of the cycle of poverty and into suitable work, which connects them back with society and participating in the economy.

To better explain this cycle of poverty and homelessness Jessica, who works for our Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) program and Christine, a teacher and art therapist who is studying to be a counsellor, discuss how we can support people to regain independence.

Featured below are highlights from Jessica and Christine’s conversation.

Jessica: Christine, can you tell us about your experience in homelessness?

Christine: At the time, I was a part-time teacher, I had lost a dear friend, my father was dying of cancer, and whilst facing grief, I had a dysfunctional romantic relationship. I couldn’t go through with my father dying while arguing with my spouse. This led me to live in my car with my daughter and some belongings, without knowing where to go or what to do.

At first, I stayed at a friend’s place, but later, whilst looking after my father, I moved to palliative care because there was a free bed there and I felt safe there. I lived there until my father passed away.

My mother, who was also homeless at the time, had been couch surfing for two years. She was on minimum wage, and even with a five-day a week job, she couldn’t find a house that was affordable. She decided to stay in palliative care with me. Later on, I was lucky because my family bought a house that we could afford to rent.

Jessica: Was it easy to maintain employment when you were experiencing homelessness?

Christine: It was very hard. When I had to take care of my father, I had to take up all my leave to look after him. I did manage to keep [working] as far as I could until he needed full-time care. After he passed away, when I tried to get back to work, I had back injuries that made me unable to do my job properly.

Jessica: How hard do you think it is to secure housing in Australia?

Christine: Extremely hard, there are too many people fighting for affordable houses, especially double income workers who are trying to get a cheap house; so, these people are actually fighting to get the same houses with people on welfare. The housing market is competitive at the best of times, let alone when you’re experiencing homelessness.

Jessica: Is there poverty in Australia?

Christine: Yes there is. The cost of housing and cost of living [is higher than] the rate in wages or in welfare. There's a huge gap going on, that's called poverty. There are three million Australians right now who are living in poverty, and they live on approximately $436 a week.

Christine: Jessica, what is the J2SI program?

Jessica: It's a housing-first model... The idea is to get participants into housing as soon as possible and break the cycle of chronic homelessness. Once people are housed, we then work on other barriers they’re experiencing; such as health issues, mental health issues, alcohol, other drug issues and legal issues.

The program also aims for clients to be included again into the community through social inclusion activities such as volunteering or work. Because J2SI is a three-year intensive program, once people graduate from the program, they move on with their life and they’re able to sustain their housing, job and medical care independently. As of September 2018, more than 20 per cent of clients of this phase of J2SI were back into employment.

Christine: What are the barriers the Mission faces when supporting people out of poverty?

Jessica: From my perspective, supporting people out of poverty starts with a job. But getting a job when you’re experiencing homelessness can be very challenging. Often, when you’re experiencing homelessness, you have dual issues going on - like mental or physical health issues - but you don’t have the money and resources to address them.

Christine: Do people experiencing homelessness want to work? Are there employers who are willing to give them a go?

Jessica: Yes, they do [want to find work]. They want to find meaning and purpose in their lives and contribute in some way. And yes, there are some employers who are willing to give people a go. J2SI works in conjunction with employment service providers who understand where our clients are coming from, they’re really helpful.

Jessica: Christine, how has volunteering helped you?

Christine: Volunteering has empowered me incredibly. I work for CHP, so we educate the community about homelessness and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. This brought me out of my shell and also gave me a pathway to employment. But the main thing is; it has stopped me being completely isolated.

Christine: What is the solution to poverty and homelessness?

Jessica: Programs like J2SI have been proven to facilitate a solution for people out of poverty and homelessness. We are lucky enough to be continuing with J2SI in the future. We also need to campaign to our local Members of Parliament to end the housing crisis and to actually end how many people are without a home.

Watch the full video of Jessica and Christine’s conversation here.

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Sacred Heart Mission respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate our services. We pay our respects to the ongoing living cultures of Aboriginal peoples, and to Elders past, present and future.
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