Autumn 2018

Reply to Dr Cameron Parsell’s article ‘Homelessness’

As a wealthy nation Australia is not immune from the problem of homelessness. In his article, Dr Parsell reflects on recent developments in the kinds of responses to homelessness in Australia. Dr Parsell contrasts local responses (showering, washing) with state and national responses (assisted accommodation, affordable housing, subsidised accommodation).

We are concerned that Dr Parsell is advocating greater resource allocation to medium level institutional responses (accommodation, housing) than to acute, crisis responses (personal, food, showering, washing).

We believe that the response to homelessness is required at the levels of both the individual and the community—local, regional, state and national. At the individual level, the St Vincent de Paul Society sees and responds in practical ways to those in need or crisis by listening without judgement, offering food, mediating assistance with utility bills, and discussing responses to changing needs as they present. At an organisational level, the Society advocates and assists in the development of housing solutions.

We do not accept that there should be direct competition for resources. Both responses, working towards the same goal of ameliorating homelessness, are necessary.

The Homeless Person

Homelessness is an indication that the person has effectively lost control of his or her personal circumstances. Difficult, stressful or dangerous circumstances—of one’s own making or outside of one’s control—can contribute to a person becoming homeless.

We assume that everyone seeks to maintain control over their personal circumstances, regardless of the difficult, stressful or confrontational nature of those circumstances.

The stress of an unmanageable situation may lead to certain psychological responses: anxiety about the future and what may further exacerbate the situation; resignation or a sense of hopelessness; perhaps clinical depression. These responses can limit opportunities to effectively respond on a personal level and lead to a loss of confidence or resilience.

When the situation persists, there is a cascade of predictable but ineffective responses which individual persons tend to make:

  • Denial
  • Distance (running away from the problem) and/or distraction (e.g. drugs, alcohol)
  • Self-talk (without understanding) or endless chat with anyone who will listen
  • Blaming (one’s self, parents etc.)
  • Recognition that there is a problem beyond one’s control that needs action, but the problem is not well understood, or possible solutions may not be obvious.

Failure to accept, failure to act or failure to understand are not blameworthy responses and should not be judged.

If the downward spiral continues it may lead to a sense of hopelessness, depression, anger or anxiety, and may also present as homelessness. This means that some external assistance is called for to help manage the situation.

External assistance at an institutional, regional or national level may offer a medium-term resolution to a chronic situation; but an acute, short-term response at a personal level is also needed to rebuild a shattered psyche, and to reduce the sense of being out of control by offering a sense of hope.

The Good Samaritan, offering the practical assistance of listening and helping to guide the ‘lost’ person, could be providing the first step in the long journey back to self-respect, agency and personal control.

Peter Burton
Moss Vale Conference

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