Homeless, not Helpless
Homelessness in a modern developed country such as Australia is still an issue for society. It can be seen in many city streets by those sleeping rough but is also just as prevalent for those in emergency, or living in alternative accommodation, such as friends or motels. This makes the problem of homelessness a difficult one to quantify as there is a certain transience and mobility amongst those affected, plus they may be dispersed geographically. It also leads to the problem of defining homelessness and how it is dealt with by government institutions. It is this visible, yet invisible, problem that many homeless people must deal with and navigate through to seek assistance.
For this article, I will explore some of the statistics relating to homelessness in Western Australia, how the Australian Government is expected to act in regards to homelessness and how a human rights approach to this issue can be used. There are some limitations to this essay in that no pictures have been obtained other than those that would be deemed possible rough sleepers due to their access.
Homelessness is not a simple concept to outline and has resulted in difficulty in it being defined at an international level, even though there is an agreed understanding of what homelessness is. Due to it being influenced by multiple factors such as gender, culture, class and age, generalizing the term results in a lack of acknowledgement to a person or groups identity. The complexity of an individual’s homelessness therefore can result in rigid practices in trying to remedy the problem. This defining problem is then scaled up when policies are attempted at government level as one person’s need to escape violence differs to that of someone experiencing a family breakdown. How then can the issue be addressed to incorporate all these varying needs? The Australian Government deem a person homeless if access to secure and safe housing is inadequate.
The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that homelessness in Australia had risen by 4.6% since 2011. This increase is despite efforts for policy reform by governments at federal and state level. Although Western Australia saw a decrease in homelessness, looking deeper in to the numbers, there are some alarming trends. The rate of Indigenous Western Australians that are homeless is 29.1% of the total, this is contrast to this group only representing 3.7% of the total population for the state. Rough sleeping was also higher in Western Australia and in Perth at 10% compared to the national average of 6%.
Youth homelessness remains the dominant issue in Australia with almost half of those deemed homeless to be under 24 years of age. Gender also is identified as a factor when measuring the homeless population. 58% of the homeless population in Western Australia are male, again this an over representation regarding the general population. This percentage increase to 64% of males when looking at those rough sleeping. There are some reasons for this disparity however. Homeless women have often been studied in insecure domestic situations and women tend to stay away from typical locations where homeless people gather to avoid violence or other abuse.
A man rough sleeping in the middle of the day. Again, this individual was disheveled and on a busy road. Rough sleeping can be an indication of homelessness.
This man was also on a very busy street. He was in an extremely disheveled state and had what appeared to be a bed roll with him. Hard to know if alcohol had an influence on his condition.
This woman was in an unused entrance which was full of bags holding all sorts of possessions. St Petersburg winters are brutal and maybe warmer weather brought her outside.
On an extremely busy street, a woman begs for cash with a sign saying ‘помогите пожалуйста, я бездомный’ (help please, I am homeless).
This photo shows an individual seeking the shade to rest. Rough sleeping often requires those doing it to make the best of the available situation. Also, of note is the walking stick.
People pass very close to this person and yet he stays ignored. Watched for a while to see if any stranger interacted with them but none did.
A woman holds a sign up for donations saying she is homeless. Is the location a place where she feels safe to ask? Violence against homeless women is common.
Rough sleeping in the steps of the Curtin Graduate School of Management. I chose to highlight all the hard surfaces around the person while they are trying to be comfortable.
While a homeless man has a sleep, a new apartment block is advertised for sales. I thought this showed contrast between someone looking for somewhere to sleep and city living.
This image is to juxtapose the effort of the council to add some greenery to the street to improve the look but in the background a homeless person uses a convenient doorway.
This person had a “I’m homeless” sign and was asking for money. This was on St Georges Terrace as everyone around him was going about their business.
I took this photo to highlight that the homeless issue in Perth is very evident and within meters of a popular café. I don’t know if there was nobody outside due to this.
The pictures I have taken for this article are to demonstrate the condition and location of those that are visible on the city streets. Although there are less females than males in the pictures, this could back up the statistics mentioned above or could be just how circumstances prevailed in looking for subject matter. Not all subjects could be determined to be rough sleepers as well. What the pictures do highlight however, is the visible and invisibility of homeless people. They can be situated in main thoroughfares within the city and yet people pass them by without stopping.
The Australian Government is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that was established by the United Nations in 1976 and designed to make governments obligated to providing adequate housing under a human rights approach. However, questions have been raised to how serious the Australian Government takes these obligations. Under the ICESCR, the Government is required to recognize the right of everyone to a standard of living that is adequate for themselves and their families. The lack of will by the Government for many years to legislate much of the key human rights treaties has meant that Australian law does not line up with the many points in the treaty and therefore homelessness is not given the full attention it should receive. The Government also deems many of the rights as privileges rather than a legal entitlement for those providing services to the homeless. There appears to be a lack of affirmative action at the federal level in dealing with homelessness.
A human rights approach to homelessness has brought about benefits in other countries and has shown to be effective in reducing or improving those affected. Homeless people are often denied the right to an adequate standard of living, adequate standard of health and participate in the political process. This would suggest there is an inequality that exists and by adopting a human rights approach there would be an opportunity to legislate against these inequalities and therefore enforce some form of corrective behavior. Up until now, homelessness has been dealt with by using a welfare approach. This results in those suffering homelessness are seen as charity cases and seekers of help. Adopting a human rights approach, homeless people would be included in developing solutions.
This article demonstrated that homelessness is growing in Australia and that as a result of current policies that is not being adequately addressed. The disparities amongst the young, Indigenous and gender suggest that the issue is complex and requires an approach that considers all stakeholders in the forming policies and solution. Homeless people are both visible and invisible within the broader society and this may be a factor in how we, as a society, want to deal with the problem. The Federal Government should adopt a human rights approach to dealing with this growing issue and therefore reducing the inequality that exists by legislating the rights individuals are entitled to under the ICESCR. Homelessness is an issue that all Australians should better understand as it is indiscriminate in who may end up in a homeless situation.