Turned Away

The following is an excerpt from the St Vincent de Paul Society National President's Report.

There are over 105, 000 people experiencing homelessness in prosperous Australia each night.

The number is frightening. Even more frightening, however, are the real life stories behind this number; stories like the following one that was reported by the ABC:

When 31-year-old Sarah* became pregnant last year, she was already homeless.

After her daughter was born she was given temporary accommodation, but a week later she was told by the New South Wales housing department she had to find another place to live.

She ended up having to sleep in her car, with her one-month-old baby wrapped in her jacket.

"That's when we got sick, she got sick, I got sick because she had all these bug bites and she was getting the fevers, getting the flu and it was the same as me, so it was really tough," Sarah said.

Sarah spent the next 10 months sleeping on the streets, in her car or staying with friends and was told she could be on the waiting list for a department home for as long as two years.

"Sometimes you feel like you want to do something stupid, I mean like...commit suicide," she said.

"It's a lot of things that comes in your mind when you're in that situation, you feel scared. It's like what will happen to you and your daughter?"

*Name changed for privacy reasons.

It’s hard to believe that in a prosperous country like ours we are still hearing these stories. As the St Vincent de Paul Society has never tired of telling governments, housing is a human right. If we can’t even guarantee this right to children then we’re seriously in need of re-examining our priorities.

A prosperous nation like ours should not be experiencing such scandalous levels of homelessness. Even worse, with such levels of homelessness, no one should ever have to be turned away from a homelessness service. In the meantime we need to be there at the coalface of marginalisation, not as paternalistic dispensers of charity, but as real sisters and brothers to the people that have been pushed to the edges of society.

It has been said in many places that a society should be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members.