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Reaching out to the homeless across Australia

Homeless: “Many homeless people remain invisible, couch surfing or living in temporary shelters, and not getting picked up by the census data.”

Homeless: “Many homeless people remain invisible, couch surfing or living in temporary shelters, and not getting picked up by the census data.”

IT’S difficult to comprehend, but on any night in Australia, one in 200 people are without accommodation.

For more than 100,000 Australians, this means they are not only without a home, it may mean they don’t know where their next meal will come from, and they probably don’t have access to services like healthcare.

It comes as the Australian Bureau of Statistics starts to analyse the country’s latest census data on housing and population.

Mission Australia chief executive officer Catherine Yeomans said census data did not reflect the true extent of homelessness due to the transient nature of homeless people.

“Many homeless people remain invisible, couch surfing or living in temporary shelters, and not getting picked up by the census data,” Ms Yeomans said.

And the issue is probably most acute in regional Australia.

The last census in 2011, found that 60 per cent of Australians sleeping rough were outside the major cities, 40 per cent of couch surfers were in country towns and 55 per cent of people sleeping in severely overcrowded dwellings were also in rural locations.

The reasons for homelessness are as varied and complex. 

It can stem from financial difficulties; relationship breakdowns; physical, emotional or sexual abuse; physical and mental health issues; and drug and alcohol abuse – and quite often it is a combination of these issues, locked in a difficult cycle.

The homeless find themselves vulnerable and isolated, but Brisbane’s Mater Hospital Group mission leadership director Madonna McGahan said that before addressing individual issues the key must be securing housing.

“Housing. It’s as simple, and complicated, as that,” she said.

“If someone is experiencing homelessness, they are likely to be worried about where they are sleeping, or where their next meal will come from – trying to address other issues such as health concerns or employment may not be either a priority, or even a possibility.”

Since 2008, Mater has partnered with Micah Projects, a not-for-profit community service in Brisbane, guided by the belief that “every child and adult has the right to a home, an income, healthcare, education, safety, dignity and connection with their community of choice”, to end homelessness.

It’s a partnership which extends to other like-minded organisations, including St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane since 2012, and one which reflects the Mater mission to provide compassionate care. 

“Whether this care is in the form of a Mater nurse providing accessible healthcare, helping someone transition from the streets to supported housing, or taking the time to genuinely listen and respond to the concerns of someone experiencing homelessness, we are working to ensure that homelessness does not define the story of anyone for whom we are privileged to care,” Ms McGahan said.

“The results of the various initiatives implemented through the partnership speak for themselves, with the number of people housed continually increasing, hospital admissions decreasing, and significant savings to the Queensland health system.

“Mater also undertakes various community benefit work, to outreach to those who are most marginalised in our community, which is generously supported via Mater Foundation.”

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