Homeless support benefits everyone

John Berger CEO St Bartholomew’s House
John Berger | CEO | St Bartholomew’s House

Homeless support benefits everyone

The sad reality is that as a society we underfund homelessness services and can only respond to one in two requests for assistance. Why do we accept homelessness as we do? If we could only see a doctor 50 per cent of the time, how would the community respond then? St Bart's women's accommodation service receives no government funding, it is funded by our major donors including Hawaiian, Vermilion Energy  and Perron Group. It costs about $6500 per person, per year to support an individual in accommodation in Perth. Contrast that with the cost of doing nothing, which is far greater on our health and justice systems.

Homelessness is a cost to all of us. At St Bart's, we know many of the answers but our challenge is finding suitable, affordable housing options and having the funding to meet demand.

Over the past two decades working in the homelessness sector, I have seen a lack of understanding about the issue. Many think individuals choose to be homeless, however, anyone could experience homelessness if their circumstances change. It doesn’t just mean living on the streets. ‘Rough sleepers’ only represent approximately six per cent of those affected. Other factors include domestic violence, losing employment, relationship breakdowns, dealing with trauma or poor mental health, and having no support in difficult times. More than 9000 West Australians experience homelessness on any given night including rough sleeping, in supported accommodation such as St Bart’s that provides 500 beds, ‘couch surfing’, in boarding houses, cars and severely overcrowded dwellings.

The issue is only becoming worse throughout our city and state. Our mission at St Bart’s is to support individuals to recover and rebuild their lives. Our first focus is on the individual, working alongside them to address those issues that contributed to their situation.

Second, we need to stabilise their mental and physical wellbeing and link them into appropriate healthcare and support services. Third, we need to support people to build life skills focused on gaining independence, managing a tenancy, learning finances, finding suitable employment opportunities to give them the chance to succeed. Finally, we need to enable people to feel connected to their community, to have a sense of purpose and belonging, and support from friends or family. If we can succeed in these four ways, an individual's chances of leading a successful life is far greater.

If you would like more information on St Bart’s and how you can help, visit stbarts.org.au

Article published in August 2018 Messenger magazine