Conrad Liveris

Homeless are just “begging” for a fair go

Image: Laura Lean/PA Wire

Conrad Liveris sees banning begging in major cities as only marginalising the homeless even more and not any kind of answer to dealing with the issues surrounding them.

 

Anyone who interacts with the homeless realises that theirs is a not a choice. A challenging existence, homelessness occurs for a plethora of reasons.

As a society we need to be ever-vigilant on homelessness and poverty, not because it doesn’t look nice, but because the data shows it is exceptionally costly. Earlier this year PricewaterhouseCoopers and Jewish House released research showing the cost of homelessness to be in excess of $10 billion a year. Chief Justice of Western Australia Wayne Martin recently cited information suggesting one-fifth of this cost is spent in the justice system. This fails to take into account the various touch-points of homelessness. We can’t divide that $10 billion amongst all of the 100,000+ homeless people in the community and say that they should use it to support themselves. It’s the small interactions – those with policy and council officers, with homeless service providers and with the healthcare system.

Often a NIMBY mentality arises in this discussion – homelessness tends to highlight our class biases, which is somewhat understandable. However, remember that homeless people, like all of us, have a right to the city they live in. Our cities are public goods and thus privileges we all have the right to enjoy. Only NSW and WA don’t ban begging in some form. There are multiple reasons for banning begging, but none of them can truly fly in the face of human rights. A ban on begging does, however, say one thing: you do not deserve the same dignity as the rest of us. As WA flirts with the idea, it goes to the heart of what we want our cities to be. Should our cities be divisive and elitist or inclusive and accepting? A long-term policy solution to homelessness is needed – discrimination and the banning of certain characters will not achieve such.

Granted, I have a bias in this debate as part of the founding team of Street Smugglers – an organisation that exists because we believe in a world where homelessness isn’t the only option. At Street Smugglers we’ve realised a few things, and they are not quick-fixes – but then, we aren’t dealing with an easy-to-fix area. Because of the high prevalence of mental illness, illicit drug use and domestic violence, and sometimes multiples of these, there are layers to combatting homelessness in our communities. However, our social infrastructure is very rigid. If people don’t fit neatly into boxes, they can fall through the gaps. Like the 16-year-old girl who was trying to finish to finish school at the same time as sleeping rough, or the 70-year-old man suffering stage three cancer without accommodation, or the mother with a child who didn’t feel safe in social housing – all people we have met.

What can be done?

Homeless people need to be supported back into economic contribution – they are the physical realisation of unproductive uses of human capital. By fusing accommodation with employment and training services along with health and financial experts collaborating with community workers, we believe that inroads can be made to lowering the rate of homelessness. There are organisations trying this, but the outlay is very high.

We cannot have negative messages coming from government, whether that be local and State Government collaborating to ban begging and homeless people or question-marks over funding into the future from the Federal Government. This is not an area that deserves speculation.

Societies are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. One of the more startling experiences of my life is meeting a homeless man from a similar background to me with only discrete differences separating us – yet we were worlds apart.

This isn’t acceptable.

This isn’t what we should accept for our society.

We are supposed to provide a fair go, not create deep division.

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