Begging and street homelessness: the right approach

Earlier this week, Herald Sun journalist Rita Panahi wrote an opinion piece about begging. This is CHP’s response to the article:

Last year News Limited stable columnist Joe Hildebrand spent a day on Sydney’s streets dressed as a stereotypical man who had fallen homeless.  Sitting on the street with his hat in his hand, Hildebrand said he was ignored, made to feel ashamed and embarrassed, and found it a “debilitating experience”.

It’s a shame Rita Panahi didn’t talk to her Sydney colleague before penning yesterday’s opinion piece titled ‘Giving in to beggars helps nobody’. If she had, she might have thought twice about assuming they are drug addicts and nuisances whoseinterest in begging is to, “pay the drug dealer feeding their habit.”

As cited in Rita’s column, the majority of people begging on the CBD’s streets are homeless. Over and over again research into street homelessness shows that many people who have been sleeping rough for a long time have suffered childhood trauma, such as family violence and sexual abuse, and can be enduring multiple mental and physical health conditions as a result. Research by Homeless Law found that of people begging in Melbourne’s CBD: 54% had a mental illness; 73% were experiencing long-term unemployment; 23% were victims of domestic or family violence; and 90% were sleeping rough or staying in shelters, squats or rooming houses. Begging goes hand in hand with extreme marginalisation and disadvantage.

The solution to getting people off our streets is long term affordable housing, and the services and supports that people need to keep that housing. Approaches like this overseas have led to the virtual elimination of street homelessness, and here in Melbourne the Street to Home project has housed many former rough sleepers, and 77 per cent have kept that housing for over 12 months.

Instead of pointing the finger at those marginalised in our community and encouraging law enforcement officers to lockup people begging, we need to be calling on our State Government to invest in the solutions. The only way to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough is to provide long-term housing and support for the most vulnerable.

Begging is an ongoing issue. You can read our past post on the issue here.