Spare a thought for the forgotten people this Christmas

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As you settle in to enjoy your Christmas gatherings with friends and family this week, spare a thought for the forgotten people in your neighbourhood – the more than 21,000 Queenslanders experiencing homelessness on any given night

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As you settle in to enjoy your Christmas gatherings with friends and family this week, spare a thought for the forgotten people in your neighbourhood.

You see them around, but probably don’t pay them much attention – they’re the women, men and children of Queensland experiencing homelessness.

It’s estimated that more than 21,000 Queenslanders experience homelessness on any given night (ABS Census 2016), left vulnerable without secure shelter, adequate food or access to medical care. Sitting around the Christmas tree joyfully opening presents is an unlikely dream.

According to Anglicare’s Carol Birrell, who has been working with homeless women and children in Brisbane for the past 11 years, many of us mistakenly think people experiencing homelessness bring it upon themselves.

“The myths are many around homelessness. People think that it won’t ever happen to them, that most people experiencing homelessness have drug and alcohol addiction, or that they have done something to deserve it. All of these statements are incorrect,” Ms Birell said.

“One thing that isn’t a myth is that most people experiencing homelessness will have some short-term and at times long-term mental health issues.

“They may also be experiencing grief, loss, trauma, family breakdown, domestic violence and a lack of affordable housing.”

Anglicare Southern Queensland, a not-for-profit charity that has supported vulnerable Queenslanders for 140 years, provides a range of specialist homelessness services for women and youths.

It delivered more than 11,500 hours of support to people who were homeless, or at risk of homelessness, in 2017-18.

This included crisis and transitional accommodation for at-risk youths, adult women, young women with children and vulnerable people with a disability.

Ms Birrell said Anglicare approaches its work with these vulnerable groups through a trauma-informed framework.

“It’s critical that our case workers are trauma-sensitive and mindful of the impacts that trauma has on a person’s psychological, physical and emotional self,” she said.

“Traumatic situations and homelessness are often disempowering. Our approach involves seeking opportunities for people to take back control of their lives through choice and autonomy. Choice and empowerment are significant factors in supporting people to re-build their lives.

“This means making our service physically safe and welcoming, as well as being predictable, consistent and reliable to create safety and trust.

“We provide temporary support and accommodation and work with people to support them to make the transition into public or community housing. Unfortunately affordable housing or private rentals are out of reach for the women and families we support.

“We also work with at-risk youths to place them in safe accommodation, help them develop life skills and access education and training so they can find employment and permanent housing.”

Aside from supporting people in need, what else can be done to address this growing problem?

“We need to break down the barriers between those who are experiencing homelessness and the community at large,” Ms Birrell says.

“More preventive and early intervention work is crucial. The prevention of first time or cyclic homelessness, early intervention to crises as and when they occur, and better support to sustain rental tenancies are all necessary parts of the solution.

“We also need a commitment from government to increase housing stock and continued funding for more assertive outreach services to support at-risk people in their tenancies.”

Anglicare’s dedicated team supports hundreds of vulnerable people with thousands of hours of support every year, but it needs to do more. You can help support their work with a tax-deductible charitable donation this Christmas. Visit anglicaresq.org.au or phone 1300 244 683 to find out more.

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