Our own understanding of people is often generalised through stereotypes, categorising them under headings that makes it easier for us to respond to various social situations; homeless people are no different. Though stereotyping may have advantages in various social situations, it often leaves us blind to the differences between individuals.
When walking down Rundle Mall, or a busy city street in Melbourne or Sydney, what do you see? A bigger question to ask would be, “who do you see?”
Do you see the man, woman or child sitting on the side of the street sleeping rough, or do you turn your head and look away? The truth is that on any given night in Australia, it is estimated that one out of every two hundred people are homeless. Taking into account of population density and growth, 56 per cent of those are male and 44 per cent are female.
27 per cent of those are under 18.
Hutt St Centre’s Developing and Partnerships Manager Danielle Bayard says that breaking down the stereotypes of homeless people is a vital aspect of community and school talks that the Hutt st Centre conducts.
“It is really important for the community to understand the various issues around homelessness – how easy it is to become homeless,” she says.
“It’s that people are forgetting that they’re human and that they’re a mother, father, sister or brother.
“They were lawyers, school teachers or bus drivers; they were somebody in their community.”
Whilst every situation is unique, various reasons of homelessness include family abuse, child abuse, loss of income/wealth, accident and injury, declining state of mental health and other life situations.
“Yesterday I was talking to a man who was involved in a bus/truck accident a number of years ago. A bus driver fell asleep and cut into his path, resulting in a number of people being killed. He said that he couldn’t live with the shame and the guilt, even though it wasn’t his fault, just the thought that people assumed he was guilty because he was driving the truck.
“His marriage broke down, he lost his truck, his business, his livelihood, he can’t step into a bus even seven or eight years later. His life spiralled downhill and ended up living as a hermit for five or six years, until the farm he was living in burnt down in the bush fires a year or so ago. After that he wound up sleeping in the parklands in a swag.
“One night he heard two girls walking past him with two men approaching them. He got up, attempted to defend the girls and was stabbed by the men. The police were called and they took him back to the station, eventually they asked who was looking after him or if he had any family. He said that he was homeless and that he had no where to go.
“So the police made a bed for him in the department and the next morning took him to us at the Hutt St Centre, which he didn’t even know was available to him. He said that without the Centre he wouldn’t know where he would be; we are that first point of contact and support for someone who is homeless.” – Developing and Partnerships Manager for the Hutt st Centre, Danielle Bayard
The Hutt St Centre is a support ground for South Australian people who are homeless and is often the first point of contact. They offer breakfast and lunch, shower facilities, laundry facilities, lockers and recreation facilities. Visiting professional services such as a nurse, a general practitioner and pastoral care person are available for clients to access.
The Centre works with their clients on a case by case basis and assists in helping to find accommodation and assesses their needs. The Hutt St Centre provides education and training programs, as well as providing support to help a client rebuild their lives; such as support in preparing and finding a job.
In 2008 the Australian Government created Australia’s first ever comprehensive response to homelessness, titled The Road Home. The project includes developing housing and providing over 1700 services around Australia for people who are homeless.
As well as the Australian Government, Non-Government Organisations (NGO’s) and Non-for-profit (NFP) organisations and charities combine their power in an effort to prevent homelessness. Often conducting charity drives for clothing and food, some help with providing housing and networks to help homeless people rebuild their lives. NGO’s and NFP’s are a vital piece to every community and often rely on volunteers to help them, help homeless people.
In essence it is about becoming aware that homelessness in Australia exists and it isn’t going away any time soon. There are people out there just like you and me who are without homes, without food and without love. Become aware of other people in your community, take notice of things and people around you.
People who are suffering from a mental illness or are victims of abuse often do not seek help when they need it most. All it takes is for one person out of a crowd of people to stop and notice someone else. Give someone else your time of day.
Money may indeed make the world go round but kindness keeps it spinning.