The face of homelessness in Australia is changing, and families are slipping through the cracks

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The face of homelessness in Australia is changing, and families are slipping through the cracks

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By Jane Holmes

Updated

November 22, 2018 07:44:18

The face of homelessness in Australia is changing. Homeless people have long been portrayed as drug addicts, alcoholics or people who just didn’t try hard enough. But everyday Australians — often entire families — are also battling, and ultimately falling through the cracks.

Among the homeless women our Gold Coast-based charity has supported are single mothers living with their children in their cars.

One was a domestic violence victim with sons aged 6 and 8. If you saw her in the street you would never have known she was homeless. She maintained the dignity and, where she could, the wellbeing of herself and her sons.

She would take them to a local fast food restaurant, clean their faces, brush their teeth and take them to school. She just needed time to find her feet again.

When offered the DV support services where she could get placed into a shelter, she refused, saying she did not want to subject her sons to a shelter. Her boys were her world and she wanted to keep them safe, protected and in a routine.

We assisted in getting her interstate and into safe, secure accommodation.

Would you want your children taken away?

Homeless families on the Gold Coast are sadly on the increase, and the heartbreaking news this week of a 9-month-old baby being found on a Gold Coast beach has raised awareness of a situation many families are facing: the prospect of the children being removed and placed in foster homes or institutional care.

The outcry from the public when it comes to such situations is understandable, but services like our and many others see another side to this.

If you had children and your world fell apart and you suddenly found yourself without an income, no means of paying your rent and having to be on the streets, would you want your children taken away? Or would you want to keep your family together no matter what.

And should we not question the wisdom of removing children from their parents and handing them to complete strangers to be taken care of, and consider for a moment that perhaps the best place for them is with their parents?

Once a single mother or family have reached the point of being homeless their main aim is to try and keep together as that is all they have left. Each other.

Obviously being homeless with children puts all parties into an extremely vulnerable situation. The parents stress levels are exacerbated, and the complexities they face would be daunting for the average person.

They will have to access organisation that can support them with food and housing, and that is rarely easy. Any homeless service will tell you the difficulty trying to get emergency accommodation at the best of times for a single individual, let alone a family. The waiting lists are shocking, to say the least.

‘No agency will give us a break’

We supported a family early last year who were just days off having to live in a van. A family with six children.

Dad had been in a car accident and had months and months of rehabilitation and had not worked in eight months. He’d had a good income as a contractor and they lived a reasonably good life.

But being a contractor, when work stopped so did the income. Income insurance was not enough to cover their cost of living. As the months of his rehabilitation went on, their savings disappeared. What they believed would be a three- to four-month recovery process become eight months.

They thought they might be OK, and then suddenly things snowballed. By the time reality hit home that they were in trouble and had to find cheaper accommodation, they had not enough money to pay six weeks in advance for a rental property. Worse, due to the size of their family they were struggling to find accommodation.

He told me, “No agency will give us a break”.

This was your average Aussie family. Your next-door neighbour.

What is a home?

With domestic violence on the increase, more women and children particularly are facing homelessness. There are some excellent DV services on the Gold Coast, but for some women a shelter is not where they want to be, for varying reasons. A shelter is an immediate safe place for women and children to go to, but it is temporary.

So do we then say to these mums, who choose the safety of their vehicle or a tent rather than a temporary shelter or living in an abusive relationship, we need to remove your children?

It is truly a tough scenario and I believe that each case needs to be taken on its own merit.

The question we have to ask is what is the definition of a home? Is a home four walls and a roof, or is it the place in which you are best adapting to your circumstances and your family’s needs.

With the rate of domestic violence escalating and the affordability of rentals dropping, we may be forced to question our beliefs, temper our outrage and appreciate the complexities of the issue much more often in the future.

Jane Holmes is founder and director of Gold Coast charity Support the Girls Australia, which collects bras, underwear, sanitary products and toiletries for homeless women and women in crisis.

Topics:

children,

womens-health,

domestic-violence,

australia

First posted

November 22, 2018 05:00:25

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