When we claim something as a problem, we should also consider how our own actions play into this. With any right comes a converse responsibility.
Many people find it easy to discuss how frustrating or difficult visible homelessness and poverty is. Homelessness should not exist, especially in a country like Australia. We enshrined the idea of boundless plains to share in our national anthem.
But when I read that homelessness is on the rise I have to think "but why?" We are a prosperous and growing economy, we are making way on so many social issues and our diversity is ever present. We have a great life in this lucky country.
Homelessness is on the rise - and we need to come to terms with that. The impact of homelessness is much beyond an unpleasant view in our cities. While it is easy to walk down the main-streets of our cities and see homeless people begging and think that it is ruining a broader sense of pride in our community, the reality is is that these people are part of our community.
Australian poverty takes many forms. Yes, that includes the people begging on our streets; it also takes in the women escaping domestic violence sleeping in cars with their children, and the aged who move between parks and shelters to sleep after being discharged from hospital with nowhere to go, and even teenagers who do not have the energy and stamina to go to school.
If we are open for business, we need to invest in homeless people. I am fortunate to meet with and speak to a lot of homeless people across Australia, I ask them all the same question: what do you want? What do you need to be taken off the street? They always respond similarly. They want to be treated with dignity and build skills that will allow them to be employable.
Such resolve to take themselves out of homelessness and poverty, it can only be described as inspirational.
I loathe waste and unproductive economies and organisations. When I see growing homelessness I do not see a social issue, per se, but an economic problem that is only getting worse. I get frustrated because it is clear that we are not doing enough.
In saying all of this I recognise that corporate Australia is pulling their weight on homelessness. Many companies have realised that their staff live near where they work (shocking, I know) and that they see homelessness. PwC is a shining example of this, recently they did the maths and discovered the economics of homelessness in Australia. The lifetime national cost of homeless is $10.2 billion.
That's $10.2 billion in lost productivity, diverted resources and wasted talent. We should be aiming to support homeless people into education, training and employment and not into a situation that is increasingly difficult to get out of.
Our communities are extremely diverse. And our cities are a mix between the wealthy and the poverty-stricken.
So what is Australian poverty and homelessness? Unfortunately, homelessness does not take any stereotype. It hits the young and the old, the educated and the low-skilled, migrants, white-Australia and our Indigenous communities and is made up of 60% men and 40% women.
This is not an issue for one side or one level of government. We all have a role to play. It is far too easy to side-line the beggars and the transient as hopeless and victims of their own decisions. Lacking empathy is not the country I want our next generation to be brought up in.
Homeless people suffer mental health issues, are victims of sexual and physical violence and lack access to a goodnights sleep. Could you handle looking after all of your belongings every night while being fearful of your safety? In January, I gave this a go. For a week I spent time experiencing homelessness first-hand. My peers immediately noticed a disintegrating attention span and ever-present exhaustion. After a couple of days I was already feeling isolated and distant from my typical life.
There's a growing trend to fine and prosecute homeless people for begging and for being nuisances, which is not the manner in which to deal with this issue. The data also shows us that these things do not work. Should the policy-makers think logically, they would realise that it will lead to actual crimes like stealing and robbery. From passive to aggressive.
To ignore homelessness is moronic. Homelessness spans our nation in its various forms. We should take action to lessen homelessness, not to make it invisible.
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