Homelessness is more than just sleeping rough. It’s a circumstance that affects around 22,000 Victorians on any given night. And with more than 32,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list, members of Homeless Persons Union Victoria (HPUV) are pushing for solutions.
The Homelessness can happen to anyone Q&A event was hosted by HPUV at the Richmond Town Hall earlier in the month. It brought together a varied panel of experts, including academics, current and former homeless individuals and activists, to discuss the growing problem of homelessness.
[The media] take snapshots of people at their worst moments and that is a real problem as far as we’re concerned.”
The panel discussion was led by Joel Byron and Spike, two founding members of HPUV, with a focus on challenging perceptions beyond media headlines.
“Media representations of homeless people are going unchallenged,” says Spike. “The media isn’t the be-all and end-all of where information comes from. They don’t investigate the lack of funding in public housing or the causal factors of homelessness. They take snapshots of people at their worst moments and that is a real problem as far as we’re concerned.”
Panelist and media analyst, Catherine Beadnell, agrees that “it’s important to put pressure on [the media] to take a more humane and investigative approach to homelessness. [However], because [the media] doesn’t operate in an economic imperative they’re not really interested in exploring that.”
RMIT Associate professor, Guy Johnson, also took part in the discussion, highlighting the biggest protective factor against homelessness is not services, but public housing.
“We’re talking about an issue that is so important, but is just blatantly ignored by politicians from both sides, and now public housing is dead.”
Policy change has seen a decrease in available public housing over the last decade, which Johnson says has contributed to the rise in homelessness.
“The best protection against homelessness is the thing that there is no policy attention on.”
The factors associated with homelessness are wide ranging and can include domestic violence, mental health issues, and substance abuse problems.
Although providing stable accomodation may not immediately erase all associated factors, it certainly will address the problem of homelessness itself.
“You put a homeless person in an empty house … problem solved.” says a member of HPUV currently experiencing homelessness.
In an immersive discussion between the panel and the audience, additional topics on the night included the importance of campaigning for public housing, distribution of resources, the issue of access to public amenities and safe injecting rooms, the role of homelessness services, harm reduction funding and substance use.
For more information on the Homeless Persons Union Victoria or to join the union visit their Facebook page.
By Roxanne Fitzgerald