Many Australians are deeply concerned about the rising number of people experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, being without a home. Equally, many people feel at a loss about what they can do to help. In this article, CHP presents seven practical and achievable actions you can take to help people doing it tough.
1/ Become an advocate
Governments and decision-makers won’t act on homelessness unless they know how much it matters to the people they represent. Everybody’s Home is the national campaign for the government to end homelessness and fix Australia’s broken housing system. You can learn more about the campaign and join on the Everybody’s Home website.
You can also take your own steps to become an advocate, including:
calling into talk-back radio to discuss the issues and raise awareness
following homelessness agencies on social media to share, like, and comment on their content
sharing and signing petitions on housing and homelessness
paying attention to housing and homelessness policies when you vote.
Some of these actions may seem small, but they all help to make sure that homelessness receives the high-level attention that is deserves.
2/ Watch your language
The way we talk about homelessness matters. The media and everyday language can often dehumanise people without a home, which can result in antipathy, blame, and acts of cruelty. It also distracts from the important systemic causes of homelessness.
The simple act of speaking about people without a home with respect can combat this effect, and help to spread understanding and empathy among your community.
You probably already avoid derogatory terms, but you may have also noticed that when talking about individuals, homelessness services often use terms such as “people experiencing homelessness” or “people without homes” instead of “homeless people”.
We feel that these alternative terms don’t reduce a whole person’s identity to their homelessness situation. Instead, it highlights that being without a home is an event in a person’s life: one that has causes and a solution.
Council to Homeless Persons each year runs the Victorian Homelessness Media Awards to recognise and celebrate respectful, responsible reporting on homelessness. We have also produced a media guide for reporting on homelessness, which you may find useful when considering how to speak about people without a home.
3/ Educate yourself and others
We can’t fix what we don’t understand. Myths around homelessness can often prevent society and governments from creating solutions that address it properly. By educating yourself and others about the issues of homelessness, you can learn to dispel damaging stereotypes.
Did you know:
People who are “sleeping rough” represent only 7 percent of people without a home. The vast majority of homelessness is hidden from view, for example, people in overcrowded accommodation, people who are couch surfing, or people in temporary or emergency housing.
Women over 55 are the fastest growing group of people without a home in Australia.
Family and domestic violence is the leading reason for people to seek the support of homelessness services in Victoria (47 percent).
For more information on homelessness and its causes, solutions, and demographics, visit our About homelessness webpage.
4/ Donate to homelessness agencies
While some agencies are the recipients of government funding, it is never enough to meet need. In Victoria, 133 requests for specialist homelessness assistance are unable to be met on any given day – often owing to resources.
In the face of the current crisis of homelessness in Australia, you might consider donating to homelessness organisations to deliver support to people in need. This can be a one-off donation, ongoing support, leaving a lasting gift in your Will, or establishing a corporate partnership through an organisation.
In many instances, money is more useful to homelessness services than goods. While food and clothing are often valued donations, money allows services to be flexible and respond to client needs in specific ways, when needed.
If you are unable to donate money, it’s a great idea to call services and ask what they are most in need of, as this can change over time.
When you donate, be sure to drop of your goods during open hours. Please never dump goods outside stores or on the street. Cleaning up dumped or unusable donations can cost homelessness services thousands of dollars per year, wasting valuable resources. To decide if an item can be donated, ask yourself: would I give this to a friend?
Many homelessness services rely heavily on the skills and expertise of volunteers to deliver services. There are many different ways you can get involved – from front-line services to administration.
A great place to start is by researching homelessness services in your area or to check out jobs boards to find organisations who are looking for an additional pair of hands.
6/ Get involved with Homelessness Week
Every year, Homelessness Week is held in early August to raise awareness of the impact of homelessness on Australia via national and local community events.
Homelessness Week offer the opportunity to share information on the importance of housing as a solution to homelessness, and educate communities on how they can make a difference.
In the lead-up to and during Homelessness Week, individuals and organisations are encouraged to get involved by running campaigns, hosting events, and sharing messages to help end homelessness.
For more information, learn more about Homelessness Week.
7/ Treat people without a home with dignity and respect
People who have had the experience of being without a home often discuss the emotional toll of homelessness. Feeling isolated and lonely is a common theme. A smile or a hello can go a long way to alleviating the emotional burdens of homelessness.
It us up to you whether your decide to give money to people who are sleeping rough or asking for change. If you do, understand that you are giving a gift and so you should feel comfortable with respecting the recipients’ right to choose what they do with the money. It’s important to respect people’s right to make their own choices, just as you would if you gave a friend or family member money for their birthday.
For more insights, watch this discussion on how passers-by can be respectful to people sleeping rough.