WNA Blog

Fri 3 Jun 2022

My journey to understanding homelessness


Wellbeing
I have a confession to make: I held a subjective bias about homelessness and the people that found themselves in that situation. The story in my mind ran something like “on some level people must be choosing this situation; surely in Australia today they have many options not to be homeless?”.

Fast forward to 2017 and my crash course in all aspects of the homelessness crisis, when two weeks prior to the annual CEO Sleepout, I registered to take part in my first ever event.

Then something happened to truly shatter my pre-conceptions. After seeing a woman slumped against a supermarket wall in Yarraville, in Melbourne, on a freezing and rainy winter’s night, my then-10-year-old son asked me three searing questions:

  • Will she be safe in the dark all alone?
  • Where will she go to the toilet?
  • How ever would she get warm? (it was six degrees that night and we were struggling in our heated home to stay warm ourselves).

Those three questions, and my frustrating inability to answer them for my son, was the beginning of my journey in changing my subjective bias about homelessness.

I learned quickly that the fastest growing demographic of homelessness in Australia is women over the age of 55. My mind was blown and my heart cracked open.  At that first Sleepout in 2017 there were few women, which baffled me given the alarming statistics, but since then thankfully the number of female participants has grown.

My lessons came hard and fast; from as simple as not referring to people as ‘homeless’, but rather as ‘experiencing homelessness’, to the reality that offering human connection to those we encounter on the streets and making eye contact and giving a smile, is just as important as giving them money.

The facts are brutal:

  • The number of older females experiencing homelessness has increased by 31% (ABS 2016)
  • 62% of those who seek help from homelessness services are women. (Australian Institute for Health and Welfare – AIHW)
  • The top two reasons for people seeking assistance were: (AIHW)

–  family and domestic violence (42%)

–  lack of housing affordability (28%)

I could go on, but I sense that even if you hold a subjective bias like I previously did, these three statistics may be enough for you to question your own beliefs about homelessness.

I honestly believe we can eradicate homelessness in Melbourne, where I live, and elsewhere in Australia.  The pandemic and the government’s rapid response during that time gave me great hope, as for the first time in my memory, those experiencing homelessness were taken from the streets and offered immediate shelter.

To be truthful, I do not believe homelessness will end solely because of government actions. I strongly believe that only when women stand up and stop tolerating this shameful status quo will we see real change.  We witnessed a powerful example of this in the recent election where independent women toppled long-standing incumbents. As the Member for Kooyong’s Monique Ryan so eloquently put it: “The government wasn’t listening to us. So we changed the government.” I think it is going to take women in all levels of society deciding that we will simply no longer accept our fellow sisters having less than basic shelter – as is their human right.

Two years ago, I accepted the invitation to become an official Ambassador for Vinnies CEO Sleepout.  I did this in the hope that I could champion women to take action, to voice their outrage, to financially contribute to our biggest annual fundraising event and to use our collective power to make Melbourne a city where we simply refuse to accept the status quo of homelessness for so many women. One day it could be our mother, our sister, our friend, our neighbour or even ourselves facing the trauma of unexpected homelessness…

I believe that by being in action we can change these dire statistics and eradicate homelessness in Melbourne.  I’m inviting you to share in this, my passionate belief and to join me in action by donating to this year’s CEO Sleepout and broadcasting your message loudly and proudly alongside your donation; that we stand together as women with our powerful voices and actions, to end homelessness.

Link to support my campaign here:

https://www.ceosleepout.org.au/fundraisers/marion-mays/victoria


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