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The Lived Experience of Rough Sleeping


by Trevor and Jason, team members of the Peer Education Support Program of the Council to Homeless Persons. Both have a lived experience of being without a home and rough sleeping. They draw on these experiences to inform our work to end homelessness.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.


Both Jason and Trevor said that when they were sleeping rough, safety was their first priority. They said that being exposed to the elements was hard, as was being exposed to some people who could be quite cruel to those without a home sleeping rough. The following statements illustrate this.

‘Safety is paramount. It’s important to be safe. You have to find safe places to sleep.’ ‘You have to make sure trees can’t fall on you in campsites.’ ‘I wouldn’t sleep in the city because there are not many places that have not been developed, and so there are not many places you can sleep.’

‘Years ago, I could park my car in certain places in the city. But now it’s so developed I can’t think about parking there anymore.’

‘The problem is that if you sleep in the car, people will wake you up. Sometimes people will push the car around or break the car window. That’s why I got my rooftop tent. But I can’t set that up anywhere in the city.’

‘For that reason, I’m better off being out in the bush. But unfortunately, when I am there, I’m away from all the supports I can get in the city. Melbourne has got so much bigger. You now have to go so much further away just to get to the edge of it.’

‘Finding a safe space is important, as well as finding water and a toilet. Then finding a safe squat in the area.’

‘When you go to soup vans, you can sometimes find out information about what is safe and appropriate by way of squats.’

‘I’ve been given great information from the rangers.’

‘I trust word of mouth.’

Jason and Trevor went on to discuss the government response during the pandemic compared to the situation now.

‘The accommodation provided during about the pandemic was good for some. But not so great for people my age. For some it was like a death sentence. I don’t know how many people we lost because of the pandemic. I know a lot of people died, even though they weren’t infected, but they died anyway. When their accommodation stopped, coming back out from their warm comfortable surroundings ended up killing some people.’

‘I asked some people who said they wished they were never housed during the pandemic because in the end it had such a detrimental effect on them when their accommodation ended. When that happened a lot of people hit the ground hard. This was during a bitter winter. I don’t think they helped house people as a kindness, but because there was a health emergency going on.’

‘The accommodation was implemented by the Health Department, I think. It didn’t come out of kindness because people were doing it tough, it was because of the health emergency. In the end many people were put back out onto the streets.’

‘Choices and options for accommodation isn’t the answer to everything. There is more to it than temporary accommodation. For example, during the lockdowns there was an increase in Centrelink benefits, which was helpful.’

‘When I was in aged care, people were dropping every week. I think a lot of people died because they couldn’t see their family.’

‘The lockdowns disproportionately affected those who were living on the street. Being in lockdown could stop you getting to your doctor, getting support you needed or seeing your loved ones.’

Some Solutions

The bottom line is that we need to pay attention to people with a lived experience of being without a home. They understand the experience, and what is necessary to do something about it. Trevor and Jason shared their wisdom about what they thought could be some of the best solutions. These were their ideas:

  • Build houses and release housing stock.
  • Make sure existing housing stock is being utilised.
  • Perhaps people could consider taking in a house guest.
  • More accessible and safe community centers and overnight accommodation.
  • Teach in schools about homelessness and what you can do if you become at risk of homelessness. Teach about the causes of homelessness to prevent people being stigmatised.
  • Superannuation should be invested into housing. People should be encouraged to invest more into housing.
  • Property developers should be required to ensure that a good percentage of the housing is for social housing. Inclusionary zoning is key.
  • Encourage more young people to get into government. They understand what the solutions are and are more willing to change systems.
  • More corporate support for more affordable social housing would be welcome.
  • Government should have someone with a dedicated portfolio responsible for providing affordable social housing and supporting people once they get into it.
  • Housing should be for all. Everyone who is without a home should be able to get a home.
  • Make housing a human right and make it binding on governments to provide it, perhaps through an independent body.

This article was originally published in Parity magazine. Learn more about Parity magazine including how to access full editions.

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