Hope for the homeless


Throughout the world there are people who ’sleep rough’ every night. For a few, that is the way they choose to spend their lives; for the majority, however, the habit is not one of choice or desire — the choice is made for them due to circumstances relating to employment or their personal lives. While Australia is not immune to this social problem, generally those in Australia who are sleeping in the park, under the bridge or in their car do not suffer the climatic extremes as those who ‘sleep rough’ in other parts of the world.

Homelessness or living in cars and so on is not just a problem because it ‘makes the place look untidy’: it is an indicator of how society looks after its members who have usually hit the bottom — and are looking for some help to re-establish their lives — frequently as a result of circumstances the person had no control over. A network of organisations attempts to assist those who are homeless as well as those who through misfortune are likely to become homeless. Most of the organisations that provide this service in Australia are owned and operated by the non-government sector (some of these organisations do receive government support but nowhere near enough and most have suffered cuts since the Abbott government came to power). As you would expect there are organisations in other countries that perform similar activities — some of which use a counterintuitive process with great success thanks to government funding.

There are a number of practical issues when you are in a position where you don’t have a ‘usual’ address, a bed to sleep on at night and all that is represented by having a roof over your head. Probably the most important one is there is no certainty in your life — you literally don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if you will be safe if you do fall asleep, where you will find a place that is sheltered that evening and what tomorrow will bring. In addition, your family does not know where you are; services such as Centrelink require an address to ‘put you on the books’ and access to a computer to receive correspondence; and employers will react to you far more favourably if you take some care with your personal hygiene (a bit hard if you don’t have access to running water) as well as having conventional contact details. If you do manage to scrape together enough for the bond and rental for a property, the real estate agent, under the guise of looking after the interest of the property owner whom they represent, will generally require a reference from a previous landlord prior to renting you a property to live in — a bit hard if your previous address was the third park bench from the light pole.

Anglicare recently published its 2015 rental affordability snapshot as a continuation of the process it has followed for at least the last four years. In 2015, the survey looked at 65,614 properties across Australia and measured where a tenant in the bottom 40% of household income distribution would spend greater than 30% of their disposable income to rent a place to live — the definition of ‘housing stress’. The results are frightening. From the 65,614 available properties:

  • 3.4% of properties met the affordability requirements of a couple who relied on the age pension
  • 0.9% (or 600 properties) met the affordability requirements for a single age pensioner
  • 10 out of the 65,614 (that is not a typo) properties would be affordable for a single person on Newstart; and
  • 8 (again not a typo) properties meet the affordability requirements for a single beneficiary of Youth Allowance.
It doesn’t get much better if you do have a job. Anglicare calculates that around 2.3% of the rental properties available at the time of the 2015 survey would be affordable if you are single and living on the mandated minimum wage; which is slightly over $33,000 per annum. Should you be a part of a young family comprising two adults on the minimum wage and receiving full child support and child care payments for your two children, still only somewhere around 24% of the properties surveyed would be suitable for you.

Clearly if you are in any of the situations above, you are probably reading this on a computer you don’t own — as discretionary expenditure such as internet connections, electricity supply, car and contents insurance, car repairs and, possibly at times, even food are all dispensed with so that you can retain that roof over your head. Again according to Anglicare, around 65,000 Australians do not have the financial security to ensure that they will have sufficient food each day.

The reality is that Australia is certainly not the worst place in the world to be homeless. Our climate in large population areas is rather benign in comparison to some parts of Europe, the USA and Canada, where some major population centres have similar climates to Mt Buller or Perisher. Despite never having been fortunate enough to travel to New York City or London, I am certainly aware of the stories of people that effectively live in subway stations and similar areas as they are (relatively) warm and sheltered — until they are ‘befriended’ by the relevant city’s transport police.

Like in Australia, various government and non-government organisations attempt to help the homeless across Europe, the US and Canada. Some do it better than others. In addition to trivialities such as food and shelter, in cold climates across the world people are also responsible for heating their homes; the purchase of warm clothes as well as additional food to stay warm. If there is a constant battle to find shelter, clearly other requirements for life take a back seat. As an example, a CBS Television Station in Minnesota (WCCO) highlighted during April 2015 that their state government reported 43 people died during their winter where exposure to cold was either fully or partly responsible for their death. While not all these people were homeless (one died trying to rescue another person from a lake), the link does look at the fate of some homeless people. Apparently this is an improvement on previous years.

Around 10 years ago in Utah, the Republican Governor was convinced to try a radical plan to reduce homelessness in the state — give them a home. The charmingly named Desert News reports that it saves money!
In one of the leading examples around the nation of counterintuitive thinking, Utah has been giving away apartments to the homeless. It is a program that has actually saved Utah money. For each homeless person, estimates for emergency medical bills alone are more than $16,000 a year on average. Giving them an apartment costs about $11,000. And it has drastically reduced the need for emergency medical visits.
Outside of medical, various other costs, including legal and justice system costs are estimated to add another $20,000 to $30,000 dollars a year (depending on the location). Utah’s housing, and support for the individuals once they are residing in a home, cuts those total costs by over half, all-in-all, from about $19,000 a year to under $8,000.
Utah wasn’t the originator of the idea. Again the Desert News reports:
Designed by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the program was modelled after the “Housing First” program pioneered in New York City more than 20 years ago. This approach involves putting housing ahead of all other concerns. When followed, alcohol consumption rates have been found to go down, along with drug usage and public nuisance behaviour. Each year some 10 percent leave the program and become fully independent, and only 6 percent are ejected from the program. The rest continue to work year by year with their caseworker.
The Washington Post recently discussed the origins, benefits and economics of the program and celebrated its success in one of the USA’s most conservative states (Utah is the home of the Mormons). Other US states such as Florida and Wyoming also operate similar programs, so the experiment is repeatable.

If a person has a home, they are in a better position to access government services, a job application is easier (as personal hygiene is better and the potential employer has a contact point) and a person can make plans for the future. The Australian Government is in contrast withdrawing money from social service providers. Conservative states in the USA demonstrate that the current Australian Government’s policy is deeply flawed and doesn’t help anyone. At the same time, the Abbott government — to the detriment of our economy — supports processes such as negative gearing, novated leasing and capital gains.

In Joe Hockey’s world, the homeless are ‘leaners’ as they do not contribute to society. The reality is that those that are ‘sleeping rough’ in Australia are not taking much from society either. It’s a pity some of those that Hockey would define as ‘lifters’ are shifting profits offshore or structuring their affairs so that they make a tax loss (which are all still legal activities). The example to Australia from New York and Utah’s ‘homes for the homeless’ program would seem to suggest that if those who fall to the bottom of society are given some support rather than derision, they become overall contributors to society — at the same time as they are lifting themselves out of poverty, danger and risk. All it takes is someone to give them a chance.

What do you think?
As he did in ‘The “trickle-down” effect’, 2353 presents us with an alternative approach that is already being shown to work. Why can’t governments see the benefit of spending money now for longer term benefits — and savings? Should Labor be picking up such approaches and showing the shortcomings in the current approach? Please let us know what you think.

Next week Ken returns with his view of the government's budget, including the way it began selling it before budget night: 'Government budget trickery'.

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17/05/20152353 What a telling, fact-filled, poignant and startling piece you have written on a crucially important, yet sadly neglected blight on our ‘fair go’ society. The Anglicare study is both revealing and shocking. That this situation exists in our community is shameful. There are many good people who are helping the homeless in their various ways, but what is needed is a solution that goes beyond what they are able to offer, splendid though it is. The Utah solution is counterintuitive, but it has worked. It reminds me of Washington State’s counter to poverty, which has been to increase the basic wage, done in the face of stiff opposition from business lobbies who predicted that there would be job losses and that they’d be ‘rooned’. The opposite occurred and Seattle is now one of the most prosperous cities in America. Because the tired old ‘trickle-down’ theory still dominates the thinking of politicians, especially conservative ones, counterintuitive solutions escape them, and even evidence is not enough to convince those who don’t want to believe. Our federal government is unlikely to do anything to help the homeless while they are stuck in ‘survival mode’. Their survival will always be more important that that of the homeless. Thank you for confronting us with the facts of homelessness.

Ken

17/05/20152353 Where do you keep finding these? You have presented us twice with alternative solutions that are already being shown to work and yet our politicians seem totally oblivious. You should be sending these solutions off to Labor to incorporate into their policies. As Ad said, however, no amount of evidence will change the minds of some (just as many senior members of the current government aren't convinced about climate change). Any of these solutions would lead to catch-cries of ruin, that government can't afford it, but someone, somewhere, has to take the long term view and say that spending now will reduce spending and increase revenue in the future. It is actually a win-win, if only politicians took an altruistic long term view instead of seeing only as far as the next election

2353

18/05/2015Thanks for the generous comments Ad & Ken. There is evidence to suggest that the 'usual' should be challenged in all sorts of ways - this piece and the previous one on Trickle Down Economics are just two samples. Both major parties in Australia are too concerned with the status quo and 'not scaring the horses' to actually look at things differently. The politics of hate as demonstrated by Abbott prior to the 2013 election has a lot to answer for. It will take a true leader to have an open and honest discussion with the Australian people on the better way forward - namely the current system has a lot of fundamental problems and while there may be considerable uncertainty if something different is attempted, our society (rather than each individual) will be better because the action is taken. The last person who went to an election with something genuinely 'new' and 'out of the box' was John Hewson - who went on to lose the 'unlosable' election. While Hewson probably didn't lead the conversation all that well - Keating happily lead the fear campaign against it. Both sides of politics are equally to blame here. Neither Abbott or Shorten seem capable of doing anything different to what has been done for the past 10 years. Our general media is more interested in the health of Clive Palmer's dinosaurs on the Sunshine Coast than researching and promoting alternative options to improve this country for us and those that follow us. If a 'keyboard warrior' like me can find alternatives to the 'typical' management of social problems, then consider and present them with evidence that they work (in a reasonable light) in something around 1750 words - you would have to ask what is wrong with the professional opinion writers or the politicians that are supposed to be paid to discuss and implement (respectively) schemes to improve our society.

Casablanca

20/05/2015Greg Jericho is right on the money yet again! If you're going to compare levels of income and welfare, do it fairly Greg Jericho This year, the Federal Government has gussied up the website with so much marketing-style political sugar-coating that it seems to be covered in consultancy fairy floss. The spin is now even within the budget papers themselves, with the inclusion of tables purporting to show the amount different households pay in tax and receive in benefits. The tables, however, provide a very distorted picture, and fail to show a fair comparison of different households' standards of living. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-20/jericho-budget-2015-unfair-comparisons-of-income-and-welfare/6480576 Budget Website: http://www.budget.gov.au/index.htm

Casablanca

20/05/2015Dishonest to resist curbs on spending and oppose higher taxes Ross Gittins May 19, 2015 - 9:00PM But for Abbott, lower taxes aren't just a delusion, they're an illusion. This budget and its claim to be heading back towards surplus are based on a huge unannounced increase in income tax caused by unabated bracket creep between now and 2020. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/dishonest-to-resist-curbs-on-spending-and-oppose-higher-taxes-20150519-gh4r4g.html

Ken

21/05/2015thanks Casablanca Two very good articles (as usual) by Gittens and Jericho. And good to see you back.

Casablanca

21/05/2015Modern budgets are exercises in spin - and this year was no exception Alan Kohler 21 May, 2015 Most of the political benefit from this year's budget comes from spending or tax cuts that will take place after the next election. And some of these headlines figures are laughably unsophisticated and misleading. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-21/kohler-modern-budgets-are-exercises-in-spin/6484044 The aggressive political interview: it's not just Sales and Alberici Jason Wilson. 20 May 2015 15.23 AEST Malcolm Turnbull probably thought he was being judicious and restrained when he suggested that ABC journalists Leigh Sales (of 7.30) and Emma Alberici (of Lateline) could be “less aggressive” and “more forensic” in their interviewing techniques. He may have shown us instead that inside every Liberal politician – leather jacket or no – lurks a dinosaur. His patronising advice, delivered in conversation with Andrew Bolt, the most relentless attack-dog journalist in the country, was reserved for the “lady journalists” – not their male colleagues Tony Jones and Chris Uhlmann. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/20/the-aggressive-political-interview-its-not-just-sales-and-alberici?CMP=ema_632 Is democracy rapidly making way for oligarchy? Tim Dunlop 21 May, 2015 In this world of technological advancements and dissipation of political authority, democratic oversight is more important than ever. And yet, that is precisely where we are failing http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-21/dunlop-is-democracy-rapidly-making-way-for-oligarchy/6486548

TalkTurkey

21/05/2015Greetings Comrades - Casablanca particularly, good to see you. 2353 That is a splendid article of yours. WRT homeless people, I always think There but for Grace go I. There are so many causes that need fighting. Diseases. Slavery. Dispossession of peoples everywhere from Australian aboriginal lands to Gaza. Environment, and saving species. All manner of injustice. Particular crusades one takes up, like saving the last Little Penguins on Granite Island. World causes, like stopping the use of fossil fuels. Infinite causes. I want to fight them all. Thirty - no, forty - years ago, I thought we'd have done better, as a species. I thought we'd have at least reined in population growth, turned our backs on religion and class and royalty, and focussed on ecological solutions to world problems. Just the reduction in rate of population growth would have resulted in lessening of pressure on everything, from pollution to conflict, and for example housing availability. But religion and capitalism and social discrimination stymied all that. Addiction to growth has been our undoing. For yes, I think we are undone. But until my dying breath I won't give up my vindictiveness toward those who have brought humanity to this desperate and critical juncture of Life on this, the only place where it is known to exist. I want to stand on their throats until they turn blue, until they wet themselves, until they admit that all along they knew their evil and didn't care for any but themselves. Until they beg forgiveness to the Earth they have destroyed. For the beauty and uniqueness of Life on Earth, gone forever. The only way I will be able to do this is for Labor to win the next election. And then the fight can begin anew. Anyway, Ad astra, here's a little story for you. On Tuesday last, Jason 'Obelix' Hand and Puff the Magic Dragon(ette) and I all went to hear Bill Shorten speak at the Astor Hotel. A woman I didn't know came up to me and said 'You're TalkTurkey aren't you, I recognized you once because you were wearing your Brucie the Bilby tessellating design on your T-shirt!' Wow, some sleuth I thought! She said she writes as Direct Current, and reads TPS. ... And she adores YOU, Ad! She said she'd like you as her Dad! :)

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22/05/2015Folks Apologies for my absence from [i]TPS[/i] discourse these past weeks. The reason is that we have been preoccupied with moving twenty years of accumulated possessions from one apartment to another in what turned out to be a massive undertaking. The settling into the new apartment is almost completed now, so hopefully some normality will return to our lives next week. The move has also involved changing our phone and communications tools from ADSL to WiFi, with a move back to ADSL contemplated when a port becomes available. Although we have moved only three kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, the Wi-Fi is just as poor and unreliable. Wi-Fi was so poor in the CBD that we had to change to ADSL. We will have to do the same here. So much for the Abbott/Turnbull ‘solution’ for the NBN! We heard on the news this morning how congested roads would become in the next decade unless we plan alternative routes; the same applies to telecommunications. Unless the NBN expands very soon we will have telecommunications gridlock, and we’ll be stuck at our computer screens wasting time, just as we’re stuck on the roads, with intermittent Internet access and slow speeds that will cost the economy as many billions in lost productivity as will road congestion. And what’s more disconcerting is that this adult, grown-up government seems incapable of remedying the situation. We ought not to be surprised, when we have a PM, who as Opposition Leader, infamously instructed Malcolm Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’! His stupidity knows no bounds.

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22/05/2015Casablanca Thank you for your links. It’s always good to see you on [i]TPS[/i]. As we expect from Greg Jericho, his forensic analysis reveals the real story of the Budget and puts to rest the fabricated claims of Joe Hockey, designed as they were as pure spin to deceive the public into believing his continuing fairytale of the evils of welfare dependence. Greg has no equal in constructing explanatory tables and graphs. I have bookmarked ‘Budget 2015’. Ross Gittins too tells it the way it is, but Hockey will deny the validity of his claim that: “[i]This budget and last year's are built on a delusion. And if, between us – between the voters and the two sides that take turns to govern us – we really do end up with an uncontrollable budget and ever-growing public debt, it will be this delusion that's at the heart of the problem. It's that an increase in taxes is unthinkable, because the Coalition stands for lower taxes, not higher. What makes this delusion so destructive is the way it strikes fear into the heart of Labor, the party that doesn't believe in lower taxes, but lacks the courage to say so.[/i]” So long as lying, deception and mendaciousness continue to grow as the political art forms they have become, what hope have ordinary citizens got to see the Budget for what it really is, a blatantly political document designed to save Abbott’s, Hockey’s and the Coalition’s bacon? Many commentators have said so, but without the conviction needed to expose the government’s deceit for what it is.

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22/05/2015Talk Turkey Thank you for your perceptive comments, and your delightful story. You are becoming a recognizable identity even when you move away from behind your catchy and entirely appropriate [i]nom-de-plume[/i], Talk Turkey. Your earnest declaration: “[i]I want to stand on their throats until they turn blue, until they wet themselves, until they admit that all along they knew their evil and didn't care for any but themselves. Until they beg forgiveness to the Earth they have destroyed. For the beauty and uniqueness of Life on Earth, gone forever”[/i] will resonate with the many out there who are appalled, dismayed and distressed by the sheer incompetence and mendaciousness of our so-called ‘government’. More appropriate appellations would be ‘destroyers’ or ‘demolishers’. I will respond to Directcurrent directly.

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22/05/2015Directcurrrent Thank you for your contribution and your very kind comments. Such warm-fuzzies make the task of maintaining the blogsite worthwhile. We have five daughters and daughters-in-law, all delightful. There is surely room for a blog-daughter.

Ken

22/05/2015Directcurrent I admire that you have obviously been here long enough to be able to refer to yourself as a 'Yank'.:-) I fear that you may well be right that here in Oz we are heading in the same direction as America. You came here in 1968, a great year, when young people around the world thought we could have a better future. What went wrong? In the 1980s the economists took over and governments began listening to them, no longer to the people. And we are still suffering that malady. We need another generation to take up the cudgels and challenge the establishment, to raise questions about where this path is leading us.

TalkTurkey

22/05/2015"Warm fuzzies" yeah RIGHT Ad astra! The last few posts have made me feel good too. Glad I told that little tale on you DC (can we call you that or would you prefer Directcurrent as per above?) ... Anyway as I told you I long ago declared Ad my Sage, a term I have applied to no other person in my life, and a karma from which he has no chance of escape. He's not my Sage alone though. He's everybody's. And everything you say about him is spot-on. Now DC I would like you please to 1) Tell Swordsfolks how you came by Directcurrent (if you don't mind) and 2) Re-explain to me - because I haven't got it straight - how - and where? - you came to connect me as TT and one of my T-shirt designs - (was it the Kangaroo/Australia tessellation, or the Australian Floral Emblems one?) because that was a story I found wondrous! :)

TalkTurkey

22/05/2015"I will respond to Directcurrent directly." Heh heh. You're a trick Ad! :) Now, how do you get italics? and indeed, how to get :) ?

Ken

22/05/2015I endorse TT's last post. How do we get italics, bold and so on into comments. And especially smilies. :-) Do we have to use the html list of 'shorthand' ways to do it ?which Bacchus did send me at one time - I will have to dig it out. Also my gravatar didn't appear in my previous comment because I made a typo in my e-mail address. Oh well!!

2353

22/05/2015Thats actually a good question - how do we use expression. DirectCurrent - the Yanks can do things right as discussed above. The problem is that the right wing extremists get all the headlines! Welcome to TPS

Bacchus

22/05/2015The list I sent you is probably outdated for the new site Ken. We may need to prevail on Web Monkey to let us know, when he has time - we know he is very busy right now. If I find time next week, I may do some experimenting with what works in comments on the new <i>TPS</i> site.

Casablanca

23/05/2015Journalism has failed when name-calling is news Terry Barnes 22 May, 2015 But when it comes down to it, we can only blame ourselves for the race-to-the-bottom nature of our political discourse. The media report what they divine we want to see and hear. Pollies get away with spouting rubbish because we let them. If we as a society have the collective attention span of a gnat, and obsess more about who's stabbing whom in the back on the reality programme du jour than the future of our country, we can't complain if politicians talk down to us or treat us as mugs, and if the media reports name-calling as serious political news. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-22/barnes-journalism-has-failed-when-name-calling-is-news/6488730

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23/05/2015TT and all For emphasis, BlogEngine.NET uses square brackets [ ]. To begin the emphasis, type an opening square bracket [ then the letter symbol for the desired emphasis, then a closing square bracket ] [b]before the text to be emphasised[/b]. At the [b]end of the text to be emphasised[/b], place an opening square bracket [ then the letter symbol for the emphasis [b]preceded[/b] by / then a closing square bracket ]. The letter symbols are i for italics, b for bold, u for underlining. To repeat this, applying these tags: [i]i for italics[/i], [b]b for bold[/b], [u]u for underlining[/u] You may be surprised that writing these instructions was quite difficult; i hope they make sense. Please give them a try. Feedback would be helpful.

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23/05/2015Directcurrent Medicine in this country too often manages the end of life poorly. Your experience with your Dad is not uncommon. In training family doctors we emphasise the importance of managing end of life with empathy to the patient and the relatives, ensuring pain relief and comfort, and always preserving dignity. Achieving this is much harder than teaching it. There are often many involved in end of life care; not all follow these ideals. You are most welcome as a blog-daughter.

TalkTurkey

23/05/2015This little contact with [b]Directcurrent[/b] is one of the [i]charmingest[/i] stories I know!

TalkTurkey

23/05/2015And your instructions re emphasis [u]work[/u] Ad!

patriciawa

23/05/2015[b]Does Practice Make Perfect?[/b] A big [i]ditto[/i] from me To feedback from [b]TT[/b], An enormous hug too To you - all here'll know who - Yes, dearest [b]Ad Astra[/b], Our [i]nonpareil[/i] blog master! Maybe I should have made this longer, with a verse about his talented successors, [b]2353, Bacchus, Ken[/b], with an added comment about envying [b]Directcurrent[/b] her new status of blog daughter. Sadly my own age means I can't aspire to that status without making Ad Astra into something of a [i]Methuselah[/i] figure!

ad astra

26/05/2015Patriciawa Having now recovered from the throes of moving house, I’m catching up on a comment you made above, which included your delightful poem: [b]Does Practice Make Perfect?[/b] A big ditto from me To feedback from [b]TT[/b], An enormous hug too To you - all here'll know who - Yes, dearest [b]Ad Astra[/b], Our [i]nonpareil[/i] blog master! Thank you for your generous compliment. As we are of similar age, and blog-daughter is therefore an inappropriate designation, why don’t we use the tag: ‘blog-mates’.
How many umbrellas are there if I start with two and take 2 away?