[Image: Dan, 47, on Swanston Street | © Marcus Crook]
Whenever the latest furore erupts about getting the homeless off the streets (or 'out the way' as the demand often seems to be from some quarters), it never ceases to amaze me how many commentators suddenly become experts on the issue despite having absolutely no understanding of, nor expertise in, the issue whatsoever.
This has been happening again in Melbourne recently with a media and political storm erupting around the so–called 'Flinders Street Homeless Camp'.
Now, unlike some being reported in the media, I'm a million miles away from claiming to be an expert on the issue of homelessness. My limited knowledge emanates from a small number of projects I've undertaken since the 1990s for some amazing organisations trying to find long–term solutions to homelessness – most recently for The Big Issue in Australia.
If nothing else, this work has taught me that, like many of the social issues plaguing the western world today, the solutions are never singular or straightforward. With homelessness you first need to grapple with the multitude of causes behind the actual state of living rough – whether that be domestic violence, substance addiction, issues with mental health, housing affordability or the breakdown of the social security net (to name just a few). Often these issues are also interwoven and further confused by the complexity of getting a multitude of different support services to work together. Never mind getting access to suitable levels of funding.
The solutions are never simple and require a deep and long–term commitment to actually understanding why someone is homeless and what they actually want out of life before even considering what can be done for them. Ranting about it in the media is clearly not going to help – not that it will ever stop some individuals from doing so.
Mind you, it's hardly surprising the usual suspects are always sounding off incoherently in the papers rather than actually doing the hard yards (or even finding a tiny drop of empathy) to try and help.
Actually solving an issue like homelessness is so far beyond them, it's like asking them to actually talk to (and listen to) a homeless person. They're much too busy trying to get themselves in the papers.