The best way to end homelessness

IAN CARTER has been the CEO of Anglicare WA since 1995. He has held the positions of deputy president of the ACOSS, president of  WACOSS and president of Family Services Australia; and was also chairman of both the state taskforce on poverty and the social housing taskforce.  He was a member of the prime minister’s council on homelessness for over four years.

WHEN we first met Colin* at Anglicare WA, he had been living under a bridge for some months. His only possessions were the clothes he wore and a small pillow to sleep on. Most tragically, he had been ostracised from his family and had not seen his young son for years.

There was not a single issue behind Colin’s homelessness. He was unemployed, in financial crisis and because he was disconnected from his family, he had nowhere to go. He also suffered a debilitating alcohol addiction.

These situations are all too common for us at Anglicare WA. Homelessness is a complex and often multi-faceted issue. When we work with people who are homeless, it is critical that we address the full spectrum of issues they are experiencing and provide a truly sustainable solution.

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In Colin’s case, on the first day our team worked with him for 10 straight hours. We used emergency relief funds to buy him some basic clothes and a blanket and helped him to purchase medication to ease his alcohol withdrawal. Our financial services also worked with him to develop a sustainable weekly budget.

Colin’s ultimate aim was to reunite with his son. For that to happen, it was obvious that we would need to help him to get off the streets and into stable accommodation.

Housing services are under enormous stress in Western Australia. Because of their high demand, many services require referrals, doctor’s certificates, and mountains of paperwork before they will accept an applicant. It took three days of intensive work with Colin, but our team managed to secure him a place with a crisis housing service. From here, he was able to move into a sobering up shelter and eventually book into a rehabilitation clinic.

We’ve kept in touch with Colin and things are looking up for him. Today, he has been sober for three months and has put on weight with a healthy, regular diet. He participates in work therapy and has re-connected with his parents. Best of all, his 12-year-old son has visited him – their first contact in six years!

Colin’s story is an excellent example of the kind of flexibility and variety that is needed to tackle homelessness in Western Australia. The days of single solutions to simple problems are fast fading. We need to forge networks of services that can help people like Colin with all of their challenges, rather than just work on one issue and send them away.

Affordable housing remains critically scarce for lower income families. Anglicare WA’s recent Rental Affordability Snapshot found that less than 1% of rentals in Perth are affordable to people who are on pensions or benefit payments.

We as a community need to make a commitment to preventing homelessness. This means investing in housing services, affordable housing options, employment and training, financial services and even relationship support services.

The support of the public is critical in this endeavour.

Anglicare WA has just launched its Winter Appeal to drive greater funding for our service network. Anyone who would like to support us can do so by calling 9263 2091.

• Name changed for confidentiality

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