While everyone has a different experience of being homeless, at its very core, being homeless is about absence: an absence of a home, a safe place to live, security, choices and control over one’s life. It is also often an absence of family and friends.
The 2011 ABS census demonstrated that there were more than 105,000 people experiencing homelessness in Australia on Census night. There are slightly more males than females, around a quarter are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, and 30 per cent were born overseas. Almost half are aged between 19-44 years old.
These statistics don’t capture the even greater number of people who are at risk of becoming homeless through economic and social disadvantage. People experiencing homelessness may be sleeping rough, live in improvised dwellings such as tents and cars or in temporary or crisis accommodation, boarding houses, severely overcrowded dwellings, or be couch surfing, those temporarily staying with other households.
In addition to these challenges those who are homeless often face a range of issues, among them the effects of traumatic experiences such as childhood abuse or neglect or domestic violence. They often have disabilities, mental ill health, problematic substance abuse and experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm, social isolation and marginalisation.
Each year we aim to hold three client forums to receive structured feedback from people who use our services. Each forum explores an issue relevant to the lives of Mission clients, such as welfare reform, illicit drug use and how people sleeping rough are depicted by the media. Feedback from each forum is collected and published as a newsletter and the findings are used to guide Mission services and advocacy.
Quotes about the homeless experience
“It’s a ‘catch 22’ situation you know. Homelessness drags you down and the longer you’re down without any opportunity or anything good happening, the more it can have an impact.” (Jason, aged 38)
“… it’s just all over a silly house… there’s people that have got their own houses, wouldn’t think of it but you know, I don’t think they realise how lucky they are to have a house… their own place where you can call home.” (Shirley, aged 34)
“I always dream, not necessarily plan, but I sort of fantasise about this; I always think that I’m going to get my own place, I’m going to join a gym, I’m going to do some dance classes or martial arts classes and I’m going to get a job and it will all be fine, I always think that’s what I want to do. So hopefully one day I can do all that.” (Aidan)
Leonie didn’t realise how debilitating tendonitis could be. The tendonitis developed while she was doing a part-time warehouse job in the 90’s. Her mother was ill with leukaemia, so she left a well-paid management role at a hospitality venue interstate, put all her stuff in storage and took the first job she could get back in Melbourne. But after a few months, the tendonitis struck and for seven months she was unable to work. Although Leonie wasn’t paid during this time, she couldn’t claim a benefit as she still technically had a job.
Things went downhill fairly rapidly. She had a falling out with her mother so couldn’t get help from family. Living off savings, she had about 20 addresses in two years, including temporary crisis accommodation, and sometimes slept rough. She had a car but no money for petrol.
“I had doctor’s appointments but I didn’t even have bus fare to get to them. My day was broken up into two hour lots. An hour to get to a place to eat. I didn’t know about all these services here (at Sacred Heart Mission) at the time. It was just exhausting. Commitments with Workcover, seeing my physio which they (the employer) were paying for. They were trying to make me resign from the job, but my solicitor advised me not to.”
Having worked in a range of professional roles, it was a huge change for Leonie. ”I was more of a yuppy before, like, always blazers and nails and stuff,” she says. Eventually, Leonie was supported through our women’s crisis accommodation service, and was able to go into public housing. She dreams of working again one day, perhaps doing something with her warm, deep voice. In the meantime, she’s a regular at the clinic.
“They look after me. There’s a lot of love in this place and there’s a lot of characters who are full on and want to talk to you. There’s a lot of lovely people who come through the door. A mixed bag of people, which is great.”