The Homeless Ye Shall Always Have With You

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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?

About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.
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13 Responses to The Homeless Ye Shall Always Have With You

  1. sirius says:

    “If the Australian government made a mere $2.1 million available”

    Is it a vote winner ? (sorry to sound so cynical).

    But here I see an age-old problem along the lines of “give a man a fish he shall live for a day, teach him to fish and…well you know what I am talking about.

    In truth I believe that if we search within ourselves we already know the answer(s).

    I like the Biblical comment because in truth I now start to realise just how much the Bible and taking a good look around at “God’s Creation” can reveal the answer.

    (That still sounds funny for me to say).

    Carry on.

  2. sirius says:

    I read 1000s of posts and every so often I get one that is starting to unravel the truth about this system.

    There is a little “conflab” going on at the Market-Ticker – I provide two posts. (There is “linkage” to my prior post)….


    @bertdilbert So anyone who delivered a truck full of toilet paper to the GSA and expects to get paid is part of the FSA?

    I love wingnuts rectocranial inversion.

    Yes. That is because you were under taxed. To pay your fair share of taxes you would have to pay 42% more tax. Even if you did not receive money from the government, you indirectly took advantage of the increased economic activity and thus got your free ****.

    Now pony up and pay your 42% more tax or admit you are part of the free **** army. Everybody here got free ****.


    Even if you did not receive money from the government, you indirectly took advantage of the increased economic activity and thus got your free ****.

    That’s quite a stretch there. By that standard you’re a genocidal maniac because you benefit from cheap gas secured by a military empire.

    (Bold is mine).

    The thread is worth consideration…

    Change of topic…(but the pattern is the same)…

    In the UK various public sector groups including teachers are going on strike because of changes to their pension arrangements.

    I wish somebody would explain that “government” pays them their wages and the public sector pay their taxes back to the government.

    The question is..

    1) Do the public sector really pay taxes ? 😉


    2) Where do goverment get their money to pay the public sector ? 😉

    My partner works for a company where a member of staff warned the boss that she was going to leave if a condition was not met. The answer was ‘no problem – there are 20 people ready to take your job’.

    “Forces at play”

  3. sirius says:

    I forgot to say that my point would be best summed up as “utter ignorance”.

  4. yrebrac says:

    Good luck in your voyage through the cosmos.

  5. peterjbolton says:

    I place this extract here from LE CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN: which just about sums up what is required of a man:


    Conducting ourselves honorably and standing for the truth, upholding our oaths if you will, is a calling however, a high aspiration which we all receive, but which not all take up. And as with all worthy things it is never easy or accidental, and there are always failures as we learn, so we should not be too discouraged when we stumble and fall, or when we are fearful or confused. This is the human condition of us all.

    But courage is moving forward, not when we are certain of every step to victory, but rather, when we are certain that this is the right thing to do, and are determined to do it as well as we can, come what may.

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Theodore Roosevelt, Sorbonne, 23 April 1910


  6. peterjbolton says:

    From the back of Plato’s Cave amongst the Neanderthal:

    The priests of pseudo-academia protecting the walls of their mantra, dogma and tenure: nothing worse that alternative discussions; damn, the World may end! Statism and status quo at any cost: Soon these administers of ignorance and totalitarianism will be demanded that he be deported.

    “if ya don’t love it mate, leave it” the cry of the Bogan


    More than 50 Australian academics have signed a letter urging Western Australia’s Notre Dame University to cancel a speech by British climate change sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton.

    He is due to deliver the Lang Hancock Lecture at the university in Fremantle on Thursday night, an event named for the late mining magnate and sponsored by his daughter Gina Rinehart.

    But a letter signed by more than 50 academics has called on the university to bar the controversial speaker, saying ‘he stands for the kind of ignorance and superstition that universities have a duty to counter’.


    My position is that these fear filled pseudo academics that ‘stand for this kind of ignorance and superstition that we have a duty to counter’.

  7. sirius says:

    “More than 50 Australian academics have signed a letter urging Western Australia’s Notre Dame University to cancel a speech by British climate change sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton”

    On that theme I would mention that France has closed a power station

    France’s newest nuclear power plant at Civaux in Vienne could be affected by the exceptionally dry weather, with officials considering the options if the flow of water drops below minimum levels
    So far, 2011 has been the driest year since 1952, and water restrictions are in place for 28 departments across France.

    (I believe they have now closed it and France is considering closing 2 more)

    Background reading…
    Nuclear Power can’t stand the heat

    Whereas Germany closed 8 nuclear power stations after Fukushima and says she will close all by 2021, France is building more (and if memory serves me the UK as well).

  8. sirius says:

    I will leave this thread with the following words from Kunstler…

    “The lesson, if I may be tendentious for moment, is that the human race is welcome at any time to begin living differently, at a smaller scale, much more locally, with fewer automatic machines doing all the work for us, and more time spent on useful and necessary activities than on television fantasies. Got a problem with oil? Don’t imagine that you’re going to run WalMart – or, for that matter, Goldman Sachs – on wheat-straw distillates. Something is in the air this week and it is making a lot of people very nervous. If you loaded up the old investment portfolio with shale gas stocks, I feel especially sorry for you.”

  9. peterjbolton says:

    Now “they” are throwing the Future Fund into the Housing scam:


    ‘The Future Fund has gone into partnership with a land developer to buy and develop greenfield sites on the outskirts of the major cities.

    West Australian-based property developer Peet Limited yesterday announced a partnership to buy land in areas of projected population growth and develop master-planned communities.

    The arrangement is expected to be worth more than $300 million over 10 years.


    $300m/10 years – sure … and I just happen to have abridge for sale…

    The Game is now Housing or bust – at ALL costs!

    As I have already said: it is the “Recursive Policy” by the captured stratum of monkeys (politicians) by the Organ Grinders aka Bankers.

  10. mahaish says:

    well said steve,

    big picture stuff is fine,

    but surely we can take a few baby steps along the way, and this idea is a no brainer in my view.

    its a national disgrace to have so may people in this situation and something needed to be done yesterday,

    which isnt just about the provision of shelter, but as you say , dealing with the problem of mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction.

    defend the realm, make sure everyone has a job, and take care of those who arent capable of taking care of themsleves, or atleast give them a helping hand along the path to greater freedom and dignity

    i mean

    whats a government with a sovereign currency for , after all, if its not to sort this stuff out.

  11. Philip says:

    Yes, there will always be homeless people despite the best efforts that can be made but this should not stop us from doing better.

    It it outrageous that the government is subsidizing property owners about five times the amount that it spends on public housing and rent assistance, while allowing property owners to privatize unearned capital gains far in excess of any improvements they make.

    The 2006 ABS Census recorded that there were approximately 830,000 vacant private dwellings on census night. However, we don’t know how many are holiday homes, people away on the night, undergoing renovation, awaiting sale or held off the market as a speculative vacancy.

    Australia has no shortage of housing at all. According to the analyses conducted by Earthsharing Australia, there are around 61,000 vacant private dwellings in Melbourne alone, enough to house everyone who needs it.

    The government tax programs and policies to encourage greater affordability – FHOG, NG, CGT cuts – have done the exact opposite by inflating house prices. The government may say that it has some sort of commitment to the homeless but the rhetoric is in stark contrast to the actual policies.

    Once the debt-deflation gathers pace, a lot more people are going to be out on the street as homes are foreclosed on, while the number of vacant dwellings increase.

  12. ned says:

    Jesus’s words indeed, Steve the really disgracefull thing is that our government is pumping over 220 million dollars into a program to bring Christian Chaplins into our public schools (and are being pressured by christian lobby groups to do so) in spite of article 116 of the Australian constituation. And the really sad thing is that if a mere 1% were cut from that program to fund these swags for homeless Australians we’d see these christain groups up in arms that their funding (which is illegal under the constiituation) was reduced, even if it was something that Jesus would have endorsed.

  13. Philip says:

    What’s even more disgraceful is that the government subsidizes and protects property owners to the degree of $50 billion per year in Australia! That comprises a combination of direct and indirect subsides with tax exemptions, approximately 1/7th of tax revenue.

    This means that the majority of taxpayers (in the middle and working classes) are forking out $50 billion in pork per year to the rich so that property owners can privatize unearned rents, approximately $2 trillion over the last 11 years (from 2000 onwards).

    “The combined total of capital gains tax arrangements, land tax exemption and negative gearing arrangements is estimated to be in the order of $50 billion per year. That reflects against the $1½ billion in the Commonwealth–State Housing Agreement and the $1 billion spread over four to five years proposed for the new National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Housing Affordability Fund. These tax concessions also mean that the overall support to wealthy homeowners is greater than that to low income renters.” p. 60

    The 2008 Senate inquiry into the residential property market entitled “A good house is hard to find: Housing affordability in Australia” pp. 60-61 has the figures.

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