Ortiz-Ospina and Roser (2017) have defined homelessness as the state and the conditions of the people who are sleeping in shelters or on the streets. Life has never promised to be fair to everyone, but life sure is beautiful. It is beautiful to those who pass it smiling. Life is beautiful, but the world is not. This world is a big bad world, and why, the oyster of the glorified wicked. Some people reap the benefits of being born in favourable circumstances. Some reap the benefits of their own actions. For some, it is about having the best of both worlds. There are still others who are incapacitated, and in some cases, incapacitated for life. The latter are the people who are never able to find a place for themselves in this big bad world. They are the ‘homeless’, that is, people without homes, people without roofs over their heads or with roofs that may collapse any second. These are people without the basic necessities of life, people without money, and a lot many times, people without families and no one to call their own. They are vulnerable to be kicked around like empty cans by the other sadistic and much more powerful people who wish to exploit their vulnerabilities just for pleasure. Just imagine how it would be to be living without a home or a family or both. Our entire existence would be prone to all kinds of injustices, humiliations, indifferences, social mockeries, exploitations like trafficking and physical abuses, overcrowding, diseases, impecuniousness and eventually, annihilation. Yes, our existence could be annihilated, be it by the “virtue” of a drunken driver on his wheel and under the tires of his fast-moving vehicle, or by sickness, or merely by hunger. Yet, the homeless would continue to emerge in massive numbers forever, as if from out of nowhere. The society should not be ashamed for the tears of the homeless, no, but it should be ashamed when these people, defying the ways of the world, smile and laugh, play and crack jokes amongst themselves. This way, they are able to snatch a few moments of pure bliss from the cruel times the organization and the politics of the world has bestowed on them. Afterall, who likes or deserves to live out on the streets or underneath flyovers and broken trucks, on or besides railway tracks? Who would like to live down below in a city’s hell world within its gutters and sewer lines and passageways, or atop trash hills? Who wants to live like this? Who is living like this? This essay will answer some such questions.
Despite having a high standard of living, homelessness in Australia has been increasing and has become a serious social health. For this reason, homelessness should be a part of the Australian government’s social policy to deal with it permanently. As more and more people become homeless in Australia and in between their transitions from streets to prisons and back, many of these people, especially women, Aborigines and disabled persons, are in constant need of social and criminal justice (Chamberlain, et al, 2014). Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016) has highlighted that at present, there are significantly more than 116,000 homeless people in Australia. Homelessness is one of the central issues in Australia. When people are rendered homeless, it brings about socio-cultural and economic inequalities and disparities amongst the populace. People are becoming homeless in different scenarios and they have varied experiences of homelessness. Consequently, their issues are being dealt with diversely. It must also be mentioned that homelessness as a social issue is not an indicator pointing towards Australia only. It is rather a complex issue all over the world. Homelessness is not limited to the phenomenon of losing one’s housing or shelter, it is rather a much wide-ranging phenomenon. It means losing one’s sense of security and safety and one’s sense of belongingness and community connectedness. These are factors vital to the understanding of ‘home’.
Australia defines homelessness to be the state of a person in which they sleep out in the open, also called ‘rough’ sleeping, or when the accommodation in which they live is damaged or prone to damages. Homelessness is witnessed when they do not have the adequate monetary bandwidth to continue living where they are living, or when they continue living in spaces where they are legally not allowed to be living. Homelessness is when they are living temporarily with other households, or when they are living in temporary lodgings or boarding houses, or when they are living in overcrowded dwellings. Homelessness in Australia began when the First Fleet of the British arrived and started displacing the Aborigines from their settlements and lands. Their access to food and water was blocked and they had to struggle to feed themselves and their families. They were even killed in large numbers. Over the years, as more and more industrialisation took place in Australia close to the 1970s, differences amongst the people became starker as the mainstream section of the society started expecting higher living standards (Housing Info, 2019). The homeless in Australia are mainly concentrated in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Homelessness in Australia is increasing at the rate of almost 14% every five years (Homelessness Australia, n.d.). Rise in the cases of people becoming homeless in Australia is because nobody talks about it. The news does not report it and if were it not for one to be working in the welfare space, they would not even come to know about it and about the number of homeless people and their conditions..
The journey of every homeless person is highly complex and different and so are their reasons for becoming homeless (Geraghty, 2018). Generally, there are innumerable factors at play in making a person homeless. The homeless are scorned at by the privileged masses and are thought to be there where they are because of their own immoral and incorrect actions and by their own doing. It is a fact that most people who become homeless in Australia are alcoholics, drug addicts, people struck by bad fate or people of criminal mentalities. People become homeless because of major injuries, losing their jobs, unemployment, poverty, loss of fortune, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, major depressions, racism and mental illnesses, while some are just rashly evicted from their homes and/or have no other alternatives (Cowan & McDermott, 2020). Too many complications, trauma and chaos in life are leading causes of homelessness. Lack of essential qualifications which could help earn one’s living is another reason many people are rendered homeless. Many a time, the homeless have to resort to begging or indulging in criminal activities to make ends meet for themselves. The list of reasons could go on and on and it simply means that there are endless reasons for people becoming homeless.
The curse of homelessness comes pre-packaged with yet another imprecation, that is, disease. The homeless live in poor conditions that it adversely affects both their physical as well as mental health. All kinds of homeless people have and are still suffering from severe dejections and are subject to regular scorn, humiliations and mockery. These factors take a toll on their mental health. To deal with constant humiliation, they gradually push themselves towards alcoholism, drugs and substance abuse (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020). As a result, their psychiatric illnesses are deepened to such an extent that many of these people are seen to have even go over the stage a psychosis- a point of no return to normalcy. Among the physical health problems faced by the homeless are chronic diseases like that of the heart, pulmonary diseases, musculoskeletal disorders, undernutrition or malnutrition, skin infections, foot problems, oral health problems, tuberculosis, Hepatitis C and HIV infections among others (Swannel, 2018). Typhoid, liver cirrhosis and diarrhoea are some major health concerns among the homeless. These diseases happen when the homeless have to drink foul water and eat unhygienic or rotten food for lack of adequate and fresh food and water. Pneumonia is another common infection found among the homeless people and it happens when they happen to be dwelling around places where they have to inhale filthy and contaminated air. Pneumonia is also caused when they drip themselves during rains for lack of shelters above their heads, while common cold and cough are amongst the persistent issues these people face.
Homelessness is a social evil and it should be ended in all its essence. There are several ways to eradicate homelessness. What is required are social initiatives, community participation, political will and governmental action to do away with homelessness once and forever. This is especially so in the case of Australia. The Australian government in the year 1974, had passed a legislation to reduce the costs which go into the construction and operations of temporary shelters so that the homeless persons could afford these services (Homeless Hub, n.d.). In 1985 later, the government came up with Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme (SAAP) which tried to bring all the emergency services together under one scheme. In 1999, the National Homeless Strategy was launched by the Australian government. The aim of this programme was to develop leadership which should be able to prevent and reduce homelessness, and eradicate it in the long term. In 2008, a new strategy was introduced in the form of a White Paper named ‘The Road Home- A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness’ and this strategy aimed at completely eradicating homelessness by 2020. Homelessness is still prevalent in Australia in 2020. It is growing at an alarming rate. What needs to be done is that the government should take milestone steps in dealing with homelessness now, by providing medicinal assistance to the homeless people suffering from mental and physical health issues. The government should open up sufficient fresh job opportunities for the youth who may be at the verge of becoming homeless. They should engage in research and development practices and construction projects directed towards the upliftment of these vulnerable sections of the society. Moreover, non-government organisations (NGOs) in Australia should come forward and take initiatives to spread more awareness about homelessness, which the Australian media has been avoiding to discuss. These NGOs should also try to include the mainstream and privileged sections of the society to help the homeless overcome their hardships. Community participation can prove to be a highly effective tool in this direction. Family counselling centres, personal counselling centres, welfare physical and mental health clinics, employment and volunteering agencies should be opened up by communities and NGOs in the big cities where the homeless are mostly found. Most importantly, stricter legislations on the prohibition of drugs should be implemented. Those who are found consuming or trading in drugs should be severely punished, jailed and fined. Whatever appropriate actions the government deems most fit should be taken against such people. Those found taking advantage of or exploiting the homeless people should be as severely punished. These measures, if aptly and promptly taken will go a long way in eradicating homelessness in Australia and then, one can hope and that this dream comes true by 2025 if it could not come true in 2020.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). 2049.0 – Census of population and housing: Estimating homelessness, 2016. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/lookup/2049.0Media%20Release12016#:~:text=The%20latest%20estimates%20reveal%20more,persons%20for%20every%2010%2C000%20people.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Health of people experiencing homelessness. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/health-of-people-experiencing-homelessness
Chamberlain, C., Johnson, G., & Robinson, C. (Eds.). (2014). Homelessness in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press.
Cowan, J., & McDermott, M. T. (2020). Why do people become homeless? Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/us/california-homeless-people-stories.html
Geraghty, L. (2018). How do people become homeless? Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.bigissue.com/latest/how-do-people-become-homeless/
Homeless Hub. (n.d.). Australia- National strategies to address homelessness. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.homelesshub.ca/solutions/national-strategies/australia#:~:text=In%201999%2C%20the%20Australian%20government,who%20are%20vulnerable%20to%20homelessness.
Homelessness Australia. (n.d.). Homelessness statistics. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au/about/homelessness-statistics
Housing Info. (2019). The history of stereotyping homelessness in Australia. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from http://housinginfo.com.au/the-history-of-stereotyping-homelessness-in-australia/
Ortiz-Ospina, E. & Roser, M. (2017). Homelessness. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://ourworldindata.org/homelessness#citation
Swannel, C. (2018). Taking health care to the homeless. The Medical Journal of Australia, 1. Retrieved September 1, 2020, from https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2018/taking-health-care-homeless
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