I had just finished reading the recent Echonetdaily article on the issue of homelessness in the Byron region.
Newtown has a growing large population of homeless and as I crossed ‘Dog’s Square’ I noticed a large gathering of happy homeless people surrounding the Orange Sky Truck that had washing machines whirring as the clothes of the homeless were washed.
I sat under a tree seeking respite from the extreme heat and watched the gathering of happy homeless growing around the truck. I am delighted that the young men who created this service have been honoured on Australia Day.
This service may seem a speck in the ocean but not when we consider the growing magnitude of displaced/unemployed people in Australia.
We learn that one in 200 people in Australia are homeless. Ben Oquist, a social commentator, recently stated on The Drum (ABC TV) that a third of Australia is in recession.
With Malcolm Turnbull espousing with excitement that this is ‘a wonderful time to be an Australian’ one has to pay respect to those who are not enjoying the ‘wonderful times’.
Historically the homeless have been labelled ‘lazy/dirty/undeserving’ but the social struggle for equality and the need for social distribution of resources to improve the life of those suffering social deprivation is a struggle that has revealed that social discrimination is entrenched within the structures of social inequality.
It is time to recognise that Australia is facing/living in a growing recession.
Homelessness is not a choice. Nor will post-modern narratives sanitise the meaning of the word recession or indeed the economic forces that create ‘the outsiders’.
The blame rests not on the shoulders of the homeless but resides within entrenched and rigid social structures that create same.
There can be a remedy. Years ago a remarkable Sydney man named Jim Ward had a vision of opening a large space for the homeless. It is called The Station. I was fortunate enough to work there for many years.
‘The Station’ offers shower blocks, coffee/tea and a mid-day meal, there are welfare workers who advocate for the homeless.
During this period we workers initiated a food co-op which later moved to Redfern and today offers a weekly fresh box of food to those in need.
Also during this period the recommendations of the Nagle Report were implemented and hundreds of institutionalised people were released from mental institutions onto the streets. People who were not street wise and dependent on medication.
The government of the day saw this policy as an ‘enlightened’ move but social ignorance was politically revealed. No safety nets, e.g. resources for housing, mental-support systems were funded by the then government and social chaos on the streets revealed great suffering.
Jim Ward continues to establish models of The Station in Canada. Byron could have such a space if the political will and advocacy was there. This would aid the great work of those volunteers/workers doing a wonderful job to offer relief to the homeless.
If government released financial resources to create a humane space then ‘wouldn’t that be wonderful’?
Maybe Byron Shire Council, in the spirit of upholding respectful relationships will offer support for this to happen.
Jo Faith, Newtown