Pardon the Biblical opening from an agnostic, but there’s wisdom in Jesus’s saying that is relevant here: whatever we do to reduce homelessness, there will still be homeless.
At the most basic level, it’s a simple function of turnover. Even if we could house everyone who was homeless today, there would be homeless people living on the streets tomorrow, because there are always people leaving where they live and having nowhere to go.
It may be because they are escaping an abusive relationship, and being nowhere is better than being “home”; or they might have a mental illness, or an addiction, that leads to eviction with no notice–and results in them being turned away from other private accommodation, and unable to find space in a homeless shelter.
So though it may be a noble social aim to house everybody, there will always be some people sleeping rough. And the current plight of the homeless in Australia–and the rest of the world–is a long way from ideal. The ABS 2006 Census estimated that on average over 16,000 Australians were sleeping rough on any given night, out of the over 100,000 who are homeless. Charities and shelters are not coping with the demands for emergency accommodation, with 4 out of 5 families and 3 out of 5 individuals being turned away from homeless shelters every day.
This reality is what propelled Tony Clark to establish national charity Swags for Homeless. If it was impossible to house all the homeless, then even if there was a political commitment to abolish homelessness, something had to be done for those who were homeless now.
Tony’s solution was a portable bed or “Backpack Bed” that provided far more comfort and safety than the usual homeless person’s solution of cardboard boxes, papers, or old blankets. The Backpack Bed he and his co-designer wife Lisa designed is so innovative that it is now the ‘Best of the Best’ winner in this year’s Red Dot awards, the worlds largest and most prestigious international product design competition that has previously been won by the Apple iPad and Dyson vacuum cleaners. Tony and Lisa will collect the Award on behalf of Swags for Homeless on July 4th in Essen, Germany.
Given this international recognition, and the fact that over 100+ homeless charities distribute the Backpack Bed
– it is rather galling that Swags for Homeless is receiving zero funding assistance from the Australian government, and has to rely instead on private tax deductible donations to provide the A$68 needed to produce each Backpack Bed (why not consider donating today–there’s still time to get the tax deduction for this financial year). If the Australian government made a mere $2.1 million available, Swags for Homeless could produce enough study-proven life saving Backpack Beds for every rough sleeper in the country to have a better night’s sleep. This compares to the multi-billion p.a. commitment that the government made to reducing homelessness in its 2008 Whitepaper.
The stated aim of that Whitepaper is to “Halve overall homelessness; and Offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it” by 2020. But that noble aim will still leave half those sleeping rough on park benches without decent cover, and it will take a dozen years to get there even if it succeeds (pardon my cynicism. but I do recall a previous Australian Prime Minister declaring that “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty “; that target was declared a mere 3 years before it failed to be achieved).
The Government’s reluctance to support Swags for Homeless seems to emanate from the “if we do this we undermine our noble objective” syndrome–even though the objective is a future goal rather than a certainty, and even though it would still leave 50% of the homeless without accommodation even if it succeeded.
This is silly: political grandstanding is getting in the way of simple, affordable pragmatism.
If you’d like to help pragmatism win over grandstanding, email the Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness Mark Arbib and suggest that he make a donation of A$2.1 million to Swags for Homeless. Wouldn’t it be great if, when Tony and Lisa accept the Award, they can announce this support from the Australian Government?