Homelessness – how you can help

Many Australians are deeply concerned about the rising number of people experiencing homelessness in our country.  But many also feel at a loss about what they can do to help. 

Here are 7 practical, achievable things that you can do to help people doing it tough. 

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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 the broken housing system – join here

In Australia, we’re in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. Both house and rental prices are rising faster than incomes and there is intense competition at all levels of the market.  This housing ‘squeeze’ is pushing vulnerable people and people on the lowest incomes out of the market and into homelessness. 

While affordable housing has become scarce, our social housing stock has also been allowed to fall to the lowest it’s been in decades. 

This is why in 2019, homelessness services are experiencing unprecedented demand. Nationally, 261 people are turned away from homelessness services every day, due to a lack of housing and resources.  

Tell your political representatives about your concerns:  

  • write to or email MP’s  – this makes a big difference
  • call into talk-back radio
  • follow homelessness agencies on social media – share, like and comment
  • share and sign petitions
  • pay 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 it deserves and that we put systems in place to prevent it before it starts.

2. Watch your language

Not having a home is life-threatening.  Research shows that people experiencing homelessness are 13 times more likely to be the victims of violence and 47 times more likely to be the victims of theft. 

The dehumanisation and demonisation of people without homes in the media and in our everyday language can result in an antipathy that fuels blame and acts of cruelty, and also distracts people from the systemic causes of homelessness.  

The simple act of speaking about people experiencing homelessness with respect can combat this effect and help to spread understanding and empathy among your community. 

You probably already avoid derogatory terms like ‘hobo’ and ‘beggar’.  You’ll notice that when talking about individuals, homelessness services often use the terms; ‘people experiencing homelessness’ or just ‘people without homes’ instead of homeless people.

We feel that these alternative terms don’t make ‘homelessness’ a person’s whole identity and instead, highlights that it’s an event in a person’s life – one that has causes and, a solution.

CHP has developed a guide for media, and a blog post: Language is important when we talk about homelessness. We’ve also developed the Victorian Homelessness Media Awards, to recognise respectful, responsible reporting on homelessness. 


3. Educate yourself and others

We can’t fix what we don’t understand.

Myths around homelessness prevent us from designing policies that address it properly. By educating yourself and others about the issue of homelessness, you can learn to dispel damaging stereotypes. You can also recognise people experiencing homelessness as individuals, and tell the difference between good and bad solutions to homelessness.  

For example, did you know:

    • people sleeping rough on the street represent only 7% of people experiencing homelessness and the vast majority of homelessness is hidden from view
    • women over 55 are the fastest-growing group of people experiencing homelessness
    • 20% of people experiencing homelessness, who are in the labour force, are employed
    • 16% of people over 15 who seek help for homelessness receive a disability pension
    • LGBTIQ people experience homelessness earlier, more frequently and for longer periods than non-LGBTIQ people


4. Donate money to homelessness agencies

Much of the time, money is more useful for homelessness services than goods. While food and clothing are valued donations, money allows services to be flexible and respond to client’s needs in specific ways when needed. 

While some agencies are the recipients of government funding, it is never enough, and in the face of the current epidemic of homelessness in Australia, many organisations are in dire need of extra funds to deliver the help people need. 


5. Donate goods conscientiously

If you can’t donate money, generally canned food is a useful donation, as are new socks and blankets.

But, it’s a great idea to call services and ask what they’re most in need of – as this can change over time. 

When you donate, do it through homelessness services and make sure you drop off your goods during open-hours.

Please, never dump goods outside stores, charity bins or on the street. Cleaning up dumped or un-useable donations can cost homelessness services millions of dollars, eating into much-needed funding. To decide if something is decent enough quality to donate, just ask yourself; would I give this to a friend?  

In the wake of the rise of rough sleeping in Melbourne CBD, there has also been a rise in people leaving donations of goods on the street. While this is well-intentioned, oftentimes these goods can become spoiled and a health hazard. Their presence can also contribute to tensions between people experiencing homelessness and local authorities. 

6. Volunteer

Many homelessness services rely heavily on the skills and expertise of volunteers to deliver their services. There are many ways in which you can help out, so call around, or check out jobs and volunteer boards to find services who are in need of a helping hand


7. Treat people without homes as you would a friend or work-mate.

People with a lived experience of homelessness often tell us about the emotional toll of feeling invisible and unwanted.  A smile or a ‘hello’ can go a long way to alleviating this extra burden that they carry. 

It’s up to individuals to decide if they wish to give money to people who are sleeping rough or asking for money. 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. 

As Donna Stolzenberg, director of Melbourne Homeless Collective tells SBS; it’s important to respect people’s right to make their own choices, just as you would if you gave a family member money for a birthday present. 

Thanks for reading – please share this with a friend and take some time to let your government know that this issue matters to you: 

Contacting Senators and Members – Parliament of Australia