This year the Synergy Partners will take part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise money for the St Vincent de Paul Society to support Australians in need. Our experience will not be the same as that of someone who is homeless, but it is an opportunity for us all to be more educated on homelessness. It’s a way for us all to be more aware of those whose experiences are so unlike our own. It is a moment where we can contribute to improving the life of a stranger.
Beyond participating in the event and raising money for Vinnies, I am reflecting on what it means to be without a home. To understand what this means, I thought it might be worthwhile starting with the question, ‘What is a home?’ A question I think many of us take for granted.
A home can be described in three words: safety, security, and stability. But a home is also much more than that. Home is where the heart is. It is family and community, it is a smell and a feeling, it is comfort and warmth, it is familiarity and welcome. Safety, security, and stability are the foundation – but to be without a home takes so much more from us.
I live in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It is an affluent and educated community. Yet the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that in 2019-20, 4,100 clients were assisted in the ACT by Specialist Homelessness Services. If we include other types of homelessness estimates suggest there are about 1600 people in Canberra at any point who are experiencing homelessness.
The top three reasons for seeking assistance were: financial difficulties, housing affordability stress, and housing crisis. About 54% of those supported were homeless on first presentation, 9 in 10 who were at risk of becoming homeless were assisted into housing, and almost half (46%) who were already homeless were assisted into housing.
In 2020, a year marked by bushfires, a pandemic, and job losses, the pressure on affordable housing in our region increased markedly, and that pressure has continued into 2021. Rapidly rising property prices put significant pressure on low- and middle-income earners in our community, which in turn puts additional strain on social housing and those who help vulnerable individuals and families, like Vinnies.
Many people have a passionate connection to their homes, seeing them as far more than simply a place or a structure. A home can mean memories and images, desires and fears, and some combination of past, present, and future. As we get older our attachment to our home often becomes even stronger, even when the place itself no longer provides us with the support that we need. It is difficult to walk away from our relationships, our memories, and our connection to our past.
Our homes are also extensions of ourselves
Our homes are a projection of who we are and what we stand for. We invite people into our homes and when we do, we share something intimate about ourselves with others.
But for some, memories of ‘home’ are not always positive or cherished. Home is not a safe place, a secure place, a stable place. Home is marked by abuse and violence.
In Australia, three in every four people using homelessness services are women and children, many of whom are fleeing family violence. And children under 18 years old are estimated to make up 27% of the homeless population.
What does ‘home’ mean for these women and these children?
Our perception of homelessness is that of people sleeping rough, but in fact this accounts for a smaller proportion of our homeless population. The hidden homeless includes those in supported accommodation, those who are couch surfing, those sleeping in their cars, those in boarding houses, and many in severely overcrowded conditions. If we who have homes are to make a difference, we need to expand our understanding of what it means to be homeless.
Homelessness is a complex problem
Social and economic pressure combined with significant life events like mental or physical illness, divorce, and domestic violence can quickly leave people without a home.
But it does not mean that these people are without hope. Vinnies, and many other charitable organisations, provide those in need with hope and opportunity. They start by providing safety, security, and stability but they also create hope through relationships, connection, self-esteem, pride, and skills. Vinnies does this through small but important acts such as individual support programs, beds, meals, financial and budgeting support, night vans, and mental health support.
Your donation to the CEO Sleepout goes to these services, which are delivered by dedicated and caring staff and volunteers to those in our community with the most pressing need.
My understanding and insight into homelessness is limited. The CEO Sleepout is my opportunity to think more about our community and those in need.
My hope is that more of you will think about what it means to be sans domicile and give what you can to help someone you do not know to have a home.
Our objective is simple and compelling: we want to change the lives of Australians experiencing homelessness.
Our community is known for its generosity. In 2020, the CEO Sleepout raised $5.7 million dollars to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in Australia. You can contribute to our efforts to raise money by clicking this link to donate.
About the author
I am a Partner in in Synergy’s creativeXpeople practice. This is the first in a couple of essays I intend to write about homes and homelessness.