Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Australian homeless spend an average 11 years sleeping on the streets

It's rather sad that we're considered a wealthy nation, yet we have our fair share of homelessness on our city streets. You only have to take a walk through the streets of Sydney and a stroll through the park to see the homeless with their meagre possessions and scruffy belongings.

Why are they homeless? This may be a case of 'you can't understand unless you've been there before'.

It's hard to understand why homelessness exist when there are charities and homeless shelters. There are social groups and support services to assist those in financial trouble. I don't know if America or other Asian nations have the same support but over here, we have the equivalent of soup kitchens and a lot of social welfare payments- unemployment welfare (that doesn't run out in 99 weeks like in the U.S), single parents, pension, disability, carers welfare and pension payments. Electricity and housing assistance from the government. The list is almost endless. That's why it's hard for me to understand why we still have people homeless on the streets.

One of the bloggers - Boston Gal, her greatest fear is becoming a bag lady. I can understand her fear. Who doesn't dread the thought of becoming homeless. A lot of the stories that she's been outlining in her blog illustrates ordinary people who are on the verge of being homeless.

Yet an article from state that the average Australian homeless person spends up to 11 years on average homeless. It's a very sad statistic.

Volunteers who tried to interview every homeless person in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane found many were worse off than those living on the streets in New York, LA and Chicago.

More than 50 per cent of those questioned were vulnerable, those most at risk of death due to age or ill health, compared with 44 per cent in America.

The at-risk group was also spending an average of 11 years on the streets in Australia - five years longer than the US.

The surveys took place as part of a fresh drive to find housing for rough sleepers.

The research led by Australia's Mercy Foundation involved local welfare groups and US charity Common Ground, which helped drive the surveys and crunch the numbers.

Common Ground organiser Kara Mergl said people were finding themselves homeless at a younger age than in America.

"It is striking that the vulnerability rates are higher," she said.

"Some people who are finding themselves on the streets at 15 or 16 are still sleeping rough for decades.

"We believe the early age people are finding themselves homeless is because of the higher rates of foster care in this country.

"Those accessing services in their youth are then most likely to end up homeless."

This week, more than 200 of 262 known homeless people in Sydney were questioned by volunteers.

Their surveys found 13 per cent of the homeless in Sydney were Aboriginal.

Contrary to public perception, most respondents said they were not living homeless out of choice.

"The majority of people living homeless are doing so because of a crisis," Ms Mergl said.

"What the work here is doing is taking the barrier down - we are simply saying we have a unit and we want to minimise the effort it takes to get back into housing."

More than 80 volunteers surrendered their sleep to hit the streets of Sydney at 4.30am on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to question rough sleepers on their housing and healthcare needs.

The research in Sydney was led by the Mercy Foundation, which partnered Way2Home outreach service, the Salvation Army and Missionbeat to conduct the research.

Similar work in Brisbane led to the housing of 30 vulnerable people, a spokeswoman for the Mercy Foundation said.

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If that isn't something that inspires you to get your financial house in order, just imagine in the future, it's highly likely that social welfare payment won't exist. So chances are, you'll be on your own and there's no backup plan from the government. Do yourself a favour, and start looking out for your future self by taking action now if you haven't already done so.

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