Homelessness Week – a weak proposition that borders on poverty porn

Homelessness Week – a weak proposition that borders on poverty porn

As a homelessness advocate, it would be easy for people to think that Homelessness Week would be a favourite week of mine, after all, it’s a week dedicated to something I’m deeply passionate about – homelessness.

Admittedly, I used to really enjoy it and I got involved in it, but the more I learn about and understand homelessness, the more I dislike the week. Not only does it feel like a week where the converted preach to each other, it certainly looks like it does so, while excluding those of us with a lived or living experience, unless we are there, seated at the table, it can only be described as either “tokenism” or “poverty porn”.

The theme of this year’s Homelessness Week – “It’s time to end homelessness” – informed me straight away that this year was not going to be an exception and would be just another week that was about us, without us.

What was it about the theme that told me this year was going to be no different to the ones that have made me cynical? When the homelessness sector talks about ending homelessness, they are talking about infrastructure and the need we have for it.

I’m certainly not going to suggest we don’t need affordable housing. Former Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews told us in 2014 that the federal government knew we needed 250,000 affordable houses and by 2020, 500,000, so yes, we do need affordable housing.

However, even if we had a house for every person living in this country, we’d still have homelessness because home is a feeling, it’s not a place.

There are plenty of people who are housed and homeless, I was one of them for around 20 years due to lacking secure tenure, not having control over living spaces, feeling like I was always walking on eggshells or living in properties where my name didn’t appear on either the lease or title, no amount of affordable housing would have changed any of it; support, education and understanding might have, but that is all missing from the “end homelessness” lexicon.

It’s missing in large part because those who are making decisions about what we want, and need never have been in our shoes and don’t engage with us in any real way to know what we want.

Unlike other areas of social service, people with a lived or living experience of homelessness don’t have the right to have a say in the decisions that impact our lives. As a result, we are left traumatised (something that keeps us trapped in the cycle of homelessness) and taxpayers’ money is wasted while those who are paid to do something about homelessness bleat to each other about ending something they can’t possibly end, all of which is highlighted during Homelessness Week for those who care to look.

Homelessness Week has the potential to do so much more for the people who have no choice but to endure homelessness or recover from it, but that will only happen if we are included in a meaningful way.

This requires those in power giving some of it up, something I fear won’t happen while they’re caught up in the delusion of ending an impossibility and making the Week about us, without us. •

Giuseppe Buzzi and his fried fish shop

Giuseppe Buzzi and his fried fish shop

February 20th, 2024 - Julie Bevan
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