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Vicar's Musings for the Third Sunday of Easter

15 April, 2018

At St Peter's we have been exercising ministry with homeless people and those in necessitous circumstances since our beginnings in the 19th century. Over the next three weeks in the Vicar's Musings I will be sharing recent research and writing in this area. This week's article is an extract from "Making Census" in the April edition of The Big Issue by Amy Hetherington.

When the Australian Bureau of Statistics announces that 116,427 people are homeless it can be easy to get lost in numbers. But every single one of those numbers is a person who doesn't have a safe place to sleep tonight. What's your favourite time of day? That first moment you wake up, stretching away a cosy nights sleep? Maybe it's that moment you leave the office? That second you collapse into a comfy bed and curl up to a loved one? It's the early evenings that hurt most says Sheldon, a Big Issue vendor who has lived on the streets of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane between rooming houses and private rentals over the years, "As I walked through the streets of the city and inner suburbs all I noticed was the comfort and security of other people's lives" he remembers, "[And] the depressing fact that at the end of the day I was still without a home".

In real terms, our homeless population now outnumbers most of our regional centres. There are more people without a home than live in the whole of Port Macquarie (78,500), Launceston (81,000), Bendigo (94,300), and Bunbury (102,600). If you imagine homelessness as a city, it's the size of Rockhampton or Mackay. It means on the night of the August 2016 Census count, just a week after Homelessness Week, in mid-winter, 1 in 200 of us were considered homeless. The numbers include rough sleepers but overwhelmingly, our homeless population is less visible. As Adelaide vendor Ricky says, "Homelessness includes anybody that doesn't have a place of their own. It can be anything from a tent, car, caravan, park, park bench, street, friend's couch, a backyard or boarding house". And while the numbers show who is suffering, they don't explain why. The causes of homelessness are varied and complex. Family violence remains the leading cause in Australia, especially for women and children, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports the problem has grown in the past five years.

"Homelessness is not a lifestyle choice, it reflects a system failure and, most critically, a shortage of affordable housing" Jenny Smith, chairwoman of Homelessness Australia (HA) told The Guardian. But homelessness is not an unsolvable problem. A coalition of housing bodies and homelessness providers have launched the Everybody's Home campaign, calling for a national strategy to meet the shortfall of 500,000 affordable homes needed to meet demand.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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