Headmasters Blog

Homelessness Week

Across the country this week marks ' Homelessness Week' . I spoke about this to our Senior School students  at a recent assembly . It is not an easy construct to understand for many students, nor us, given that our reality is such a long way from experiencing homelessness or even seeing it in action. Through our College's focus on Service and Citizenship, we do work with agencies who deal with this matter. Addressing long-term homelessness within our own state is not simply a matter of providing the usual food and clothing. Homelessness is a world wide societal issue and requires sound government policy and action. 

At the time of completing this article I found myself in San Francisco about to join up with  40 of our students who are engaging in an extension course at Stanford. 

Ironically, as we mark Homelessness week at home,  I found myself walking through one of the worlds highest per capita  homeless districts, colloquially known as the 'Tenderloin', which happens to be  in San Francisco,  .  Within it's boundaries one can find most of the cities social services for an estimated 6,500 homeless  people. The extent of their problem is very clear, as is our own.

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Of course, for all of us, education and general awareness are just two of the keys to assist with the challenge of finding a longer-term solution.

To  contextualise  the issue of homelessness in WA, following are some basic facts.

  • The estimated number of people experiencing homelessness in Western Australia has remained consistent between the 2011 and 2016 Census, with over 9,000 people experiencing homeless on any one night.
  • People become homeless for lots of different reasons. There are social causes of homelessness, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment; and life events which cause individuals to become homeless. Many people become homeless because they can no longer afford the rent.
  • 116,427 people were experiencing homelessness each night. There are 50 homeless people for every 10,000 Australians.

Key Western Australian estimates tell us that:

  • 9,000 plus people experience homelessness on any given night
  • The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness is more than 13 times the non-Indigenous population

Of these people:

  • 1200 were children were under the age of 12
  • 3132 were people under the age of 25
  • 1508 people were over the age of 55

Homelessness is a complex societal issue but there are some simple things we can all do to help reduce the impact, such as:

  • Educating ourselves. There are myriad reasons why a person becomes homeless — lack of affordable housing, loss of a job, divorce, illness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, et cetera. One of the first steps you can take toward helping the homeless is trying to understand how they got there in the first place.
  • Showing respect. Do not treat a homeless person as if they are invisible. Many people experiencing homelessness say that the loss of dignity that accompanies their situation is harder to bear than the actual loss of physical things.
  • Donating.  Possibly the item we  most understand. Clothing is a big one here, as are shoes and food. Non-perishable items are always in short supply at food pantries and homeless shelters. Other items that might be needed include blankets, coats, books and small kitchen items, such as cups and utensils.
  • Volunteering.  Sign up to work an evening shift at your local homeless shelter. Answer phones, sort mail, serve food, wash dishes, distribute clothes, babysit kids, clean floors, fix a leaky toilet. Find out what they need and how your skills can help.

Sometimes, when we break a problem down, it is the simple things that can make such a difference for so many. Of course, the challenge is also to see this issue and many other challenges from a wider community perspective.

Scotch recognises that homelessness doesn't sleep or have a day off. We believe that homelessness is solvable, so let's unite to # EndHomelessnessWA

Click here to view Uniting Care West's 2019 campaign. 

Dr Alec O'Connell FACE, FAIM, FNAAUC

As Scotch College's 7th Headmaster, I focus on preparing boys for life through focusing on values and cultural alignment.

I am a passionate educator focussed on student and community engagement. My goal as a Headmaster is to graduate future thought leaders who are prepared for life after school.


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