Well might it be asked how to articulate the interests of the homeless in the development of effective homelessness responses. Are headlines what homeless Hannah wants? Does she go public and reiterate the old adage that the way a society treats her, it's most vulnerable, is the measure of its worth - in the hope of raising public awareness about her situation and of her plight, and the situation and plight of others like her? Do we empower homeless and destitute Harry to come forward and tell and sell his sad and sorry story to the fourth estate? Or do we workers in the sector quietly beaver away, without bringing shame and unwanted humiliation down upon Hannah and Harry, and their families and friends for that matter, working away to lift these two homeless, destitute and desperate young people out of the gutter and their despair, and into lives of productivity and happiness in safe and secure accommodation as silently and as invisibly as possible? Perhaps the height of our profession, employment-wise, in the welfare sector, would be to become one of those silent and invisible lobbyists stalking the corridors of power in Canberra, pushing the barrow not for John Grant Motors, but for Harry and Hannah to be provided with a full-time worker each for the next five years: a worker to walk with them, to help them out of the depths of their pain demonstrated by alcohol and drug addiction and other self-destructive tendencies, and guide them towards those services in society that will help them belong and achieve happiness and success.
While multiculturalism may be the way to go with the 240 nationalities inhabiting Australia which has the world's most successful ethnic mix on planet Earth, assimilation may be the way to go with the estimated 105,000 homeless people each night in Australia, and the 16,000 of them reduced to sleeping rough on the streets. Multiculturalism celebrates diversity and broadens and enriches the country's human capital, its collective wealth of ideas, wisdom and skill. Homelessness is not to be celebrated, and does not enrich the country's human capital. Celebrating the homeless culture, as a culture apart, by, for example, having unique and different programs for the Hannahs and Harrys, and marching through the streets with them, seems not to be greatly respectful of them. Harry and Hannah want not to be treated as different, but want to belong to the mainstream, to feel part of and have a stake in Australian society, and to somehow contribute to its collective wealth of ideas, wisdom and skill. Hannah and Harry want to be respected, understood and tolerated through assimilation into Australian society, and want to own the values of respect, understanding and tolerance themselves, values that define Australia. Integration, social inclusion if you like, is what Harry and Hannah want.
[ top ]
Homelessness is not to be celebrated. Escape from homelessness is. There are similarities between some immigrants to Australia and Australia's own, home-grown homeless in what they are escaping: poverty, strife, tyranny, intimidation, intolerance, corruption, chaos, oppression, persecution, neglect and abuse. Not that the escape of either the immigrant or the homeless necessarily needs a fanfare to accompany it, but the possibility for both parties of peace, freedom, prosperity and equality of opportunity that are products of the Australian culture are certainly to be celebrated.
The way to celebrate their escape from homelessness, be it Harry or Hannah or an immigrant to Australia gaining permanent residency due to troubles in her country of origin, is through a coming together, all as part of one, a belonging of one and all, not separation. Not a good idea, it would seem for the City of Melbourne, as it proposed in July of this year, a separate international student centre in Bourke Street in Melbourne, an understandable response perhaps to recent concerns in the media about student welfare. Better, simply, a student centre, even more simply, a youth centre where exposure of international students, Australian students, homeless young people to each other and each other's differences would help break down prejudice and bring about belonging. And, for the same purpose, not suburbs of affordable housing only, or rooming houses of enormous proportions to cater only for the homeless, as these will prevent interaction, knowledge transfer and human exchange, and only help maintain the silos of separation, as opposed to integration and assimilation. Better, simply, a home among other homes in mainstream suburbia with access to employment, education, training and health and welfare services alongside all other citizens of the land.....but for Hannah and Harry, with the extra support of the worker assigned to them for the next five years that they may be equally resourced and that the access and success may occur.
Sustained contact over time helps trust and friendships to form to spill over into good behaviour and the leading of happy lives. Without such, young homeless Harry and Hannah can become more vulnerable, isolated and alienated, even radicalised against society. Openness, tolerance and inclusiveness are society's best defences not only against terrorism, as Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Simon Overland has argued in the light of the police raids on terrorist suspects recently, but they are also society's best defences against homelessness and misery. Effective homelessness responses might well include, as key components, apart from the Canberra lobbyists, the workers on the ground with their fixed, five-year terms with individual young people, and operating mainly silently and invisibly in the best interests of their clients.
Peter Dillon, Residential Youth Worker, 'Time For Youth', Geelong