Tuesday 9 March 2010

Thoughts on the homeless

After putting up a few posts regarding homeless people in Sydney recently, I decided to do a spot of thinking on the matter. I hope you like Venn Diagrams as much as I do.

Firstly, to begging. A reasonable number of the beggars that I photographed had signs proclaiming that they were homeless. However, whilst there are supposed to be 461 homeless people in inner Sydney, I found nowhere near that number of beggars. It is my contention that only a small number of the homeless beg, and that many beggars are not homeless.

My evidence for the second point is thin. However, I used to work near the dead centre of the CBD. That area had three well known and aggressive beggars. Everyone in the office knew who they were, as they pestered us every lunch time. All three were seen at various times catching the train home at the end of the day, counting their loot. One was overheard on her mobile informing her other half how much she had made that day, and where they were going to dinner that night. Begging was a way to supplement her dole fraud.

Then we have alcoholics. Quite a few of the homeless that I saw were stumbling drunk. (Interestingly though, the beggars all appeared sober - although down at Central, the drunks at the Chalmers St entrance to the train station are quite aggressive in asking for money).

I have worked for an alcoholic. He held a senior management position, and he was a complete lush. He was pissed all day, every day. Clearly, only a fraction of alcoholics end up on the streets. However, I wonder what fraction of the homeless are alcoholics?
The same with drugs. I have known a few people who have been hooked on various drugs at some point in their lives, and they were never homeless. I've also worked for a businessman who could not live without his dope. I wonder what fraction of the homeless are hopelessly addicted to drugs?
And mental illness is the same. I'm talking about barking-mad type mental illness here, not being scared of tunnels or spiders.
Then we have employment, or a lack thereof. We have stacks of unemployed people, but proportionally, not many homeless. Are all homeless people unemployed? Actually, given the definition of homeless, I'm quite sure that some are employed.
The government is currently tossing a bucket of our money at "halving the homeless crisis". It involves building more social housing etc etc. In my view, homelessness is caused by a confluence of a number of factors. Suffering from one of these factors is not sufficient to cause homelessness, but being unemployed, mad and addicted to ice is quite likely to result in you sleeping on a park bench. It is not a shortage of publicly funded housing that causes homelessness, it is instead the interaction of a number of factors that have nothing to do with housing.
So, how do we "solve" homelessness?

For starters, I don't think it will ever be "solved". It will certainly never be solved by a big central government program. If a homeless person is mad, unemployed and shooting up ice, I'd suggest that a good start to getting them off the street would be removing one of these factors, and the most logical is to stop using ice. I don't see how taking a mad, ice using dole bludger and putting them in a taxpayer funded house is going to solve anything. If anything, they'll probably strip the fittings and sell them to buy more drugs - ie, make the problem worse, whilst costing us money.

No, the answer in my mind lies in those groups of unpaid charity workers who try and clean up the lives of the homeless one person at a time. As unfashionable as this sounds, it probably involves a dose of religion. As much as the atheist latte-sippers hate the idea, having something to live for and believe in can be an enormous help for some people.

Frankly, it's probably time to send in a battalion of Mormons rather than a brigade of bureaucrats.

1 comment:

SydneyHomeless said...

Importantly,although many beggars are not "homeless" they nevertheless fall into the category of 'At Risk of Homelessness." Check us out on twitter http:twitter.com/SydneyHomeless