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Speaking up for the homeless


As South Australians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Hutt St Centre this year, it is sobering to realise that the need for the centre’s services has never been greater.

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According to chief executive Chris Burns, there has been a record number of people walking through its doors this year and more than a third of new clients are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

“There’s a pressing issue at the heart of our community – the plight of working people pushed into homelessness…despite their best efforts many working people and families struggle to survive due to rising living costs, stagnant wages and limited affordable housing,” Mr Burns, said recently.

“The reality is that many in these circumstances are one, unforeseen event away from homelessness.”

For a number of years Vinnies CEO Sleepout has raised much-needed funds for its men’s and women’s shelters and other support services. The event has also played an important role in dispelling myths about those people experiencing homelessness, particularly among business leaders. Politicians have also participated in the Sleepout, including the current Premier Peter Malinauskas, but whether this translates to political action is debatable.

The dilemma facing men and women sleeping rough in our community was highlighted recently when it was revealed that four men living in makeshift gazebos behind a Salvation Army office in Modbury had been asked to move on. Although the local council and a northern suburbs housing alliance say they are trying to find a suitable location, it’s just one example of how rough sleepers are shifted around like pawns on a chess board.

In an interview with David Bevan on ABC Mornings, 58-year-old

Peter Woodforde (Woody) spoke of being moved on from various places and how difficult it was for a single man to find public housing. He has launched his own online business, Woody and Skip, selling prints with poems about homelessness to raise funds to buy caravans for people living rough.

Frances Nelson

Frances Nelson KC, chair of the Parole Board.

During the radio interview, Frances Nelson KC, chair of the Parole Board, called in to the program with a heartfelt plea for the Government to do more for people like Woody.

“What a heartbreaking story,” she said, going on to say that there are people in prison who are due to be released but cannot be because there is nowhere for them to live.

“I have to say the lack of public housing for people living on the fringe is just appalling…recently there were 18 people still in prison who couldn’t be released because they had nowhere to live – 13 men and five women. And it’s

particularly a problem for the Indigenous population.”

Given all the research that shows people are more likely to reoffend if they don’t have adequate housing, Ms Nelson said at the very least it was a public safety issue. She expressed her frustration at the lack of response from the Government: “It’s appalling that we can’t motivate the Government to do something.”

“As a community, we are responsible to give people something as basic as a roof over their heads,” she said.

“I’ve been struggling for so long to try to deal with this and just getting no response, something has to happen.”

When Mr Bevan asked if she was suggesting the Government buy ‘a whole lot of pods’ and put them somewhere for people to live,

Ms Nelson said “well why not, we spend money on all sorts of other things”.

As she said so frankly, it should not be that difficult to find housing for people, whether it’s more temporary accommodation (most nights Vinnies is turning away

15 people from its men’s shelter) or providing more public housing.

It’s strange that when COVID was at its worst, we managed to find temporary accommodation in hotels for people sleeping rough, for public health reasons mainly, and yet when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of the homeless in ‘normal’ times, we don’t seem to be able to do anything to help.

Perhaps if more people followed Frances Nelson’s example in expressing their frustration and outrage, the Government might start to tackle the problem in the same way as it would a pandemic or a natural disaster.

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