Homelessness, when there’s simply no room at the inn.

One small letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald on the 27/12/07 made me realise what has really changed and why I feel so optimistic for the new year ahead.

Ashley Arthur of the Early Morning Centre, Nicholls, A.C.T. reflected on Kevin Rudd serving breakfast to the homeless on Boxing Day in a covert visit: “Our elected officials are not always self-serving egomaniacs.” After a decade of self-interest and xenophobia, one glimmer of light that perhaps Australia could return to the “land of the fair go” with the example of the Prime Minister leading, “while most where sleeping in and trying to recover from the gluttony of Christmas Day.”

I began thinking of the issue of homelessness, so obviously an issue that resonates with Kevin Rudd, that he aimed to address it, making it a priority at the start of his government’s term of office. I remember the Howard Government in July 1996, just three months into it’s first term, shifting the emphasis in housing provision to a system of rent assistance administered through the social security system with all the difficulties and discrimination that it would bring.

Housing for the nation’s poorest was then left to the private sector to provide. As late as August 2005 Royce Millar of the Age reported that public housing had fallen off the nation’s political agenda. “Public housing is the absent issue in Australian politics” he wrote, ” We hear a lot about record house prices and interest rate rises, but public housing rarely scores a mention.”

Further research on homelessness, statistics, definitions, public policy statements led me today to an excellent article by David Holdcroft SJ of the Jesuit Refugee Centre Australia questioning what place the homeless have in our nation.

His views, as one working on the ground, sees homelessness as a broader issue involving not just bricks and mortar but respect, social justice and inclusion.

Holdcroft reflects:

“I saw time and again among the homeless examples of people who, on being provided with accommodation, needed extensive support to maintain it. Sometimes they openly repudiated the offer. This said to me that, to these people and therefore to us, home was something more than four walls and a roof. ”

Perhaps this is why “The Choir of Hard Knocks” has been such a success at giving the homeless a purpose and sense of belonging that is making a real difference to their lives

Sadly, Holdcroft is not as optimistic as I am, pointing to reports that Rudd will continue Howard’s hard line on refugees arriving in Australia. This leads him to believe that “changes of governments don’t necessarily usher in the deep underlying changes in society about which one dreams. Cultural and societal change is a much deeper, slower and more complex process in which governments have only a limited role to play.”

So, Rudd’s Boxing Day outing is just a small step forward in adding action to policy. He will need to re-think the harsh refugee policy of his predecessor if he is to fully restore our nation to a just and inclusive one. And yet I remain optimistic.

“We really have to roll up our sleeves here, Mr Rudd said on ABC Radio, “The turn-away rate for people who are in all sorts of distress arriving at a homeless shelter, where 7 out of 10 are turned away because there’s simply no room at the in, we’ve got to do a lot better than that.”

Yes we will all have to do a lot better than that.

More than this however, it remains to each and every one of us to change our thinking. Is it just the Government’s duty or are we all charged with the duty of making the stranger and the marginalised welcome and giving them a room at the inn.


~ by abstraktbiblos on Wednesday, 2 January, 2008.

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