EDITORIAL: For many, homelessness is just a few steps away

We use the "us vs them" separation tool to justify all manner of blindness in our society. Assumptions of mental illness, drug/alcohol addiction and a history of poor personal choices tend to go hand-in-hand with generalised opinions regarding homelessness, especially if social media is anything to go by.

It is so easy to separate people experiencing homelessness from "us" when we pigeonhole and levy judgment on "them" based on our own beliefs about what life should look like. It makes it easier to dismiss and overlook them, to perpetuate the myth of the invisibility cloak in which they struggle to survive. But the reality is that homelessness is an incredibly complex issue.

No one is actually immune - there's no vaccination against homelessness.

And while many people living this experience are trapped in a lifetime cycle of poverty that sometimes stretches back generations, many people started out in a very different lifestyle.

Homelessness in this country is growing. According to Homelessness Australia, there are more than 116,000 people experiencing homelessness, an increase of 13.7 per cent since 2011. Just to put this in perspective, imagine the entire population of Mandurah and Murray becoming homeless, and then add 12,000 more people.

There isn't just one pathway to homelessness. Homelessness is often the end of a long road that can involve financial disasters, housing availability problems, health and mental health issues, family violence and conflict, exiting state care or prison, long-term unemployment and social and economic exclusion. In fact, 12 per cent of people experiencing homelessness actually have jobs, despite the stereotype.

Similarly, homelessness is not just "rooflessness", according to Council to Homeless Persons. Five per cent are living on the street, 12 per cent are couch surfing, 18 per cent are living in rooming houses, 29 per cent are in supported accommodation and 36 per cent in severely overcrowded dwellings.

However, one thing that seems to correlate quite clearly, is the decreasing availability of funded community services as the Commonwealth decommissions previously supported programs and pushes vulnerable members of society towards the NDIS.

Funding and initiatives announced in the 2019 budget fall far short of meeting community needs. As these provisions dwindle, the number of people sinking further and further into the seemingly eternal abyss of poverty grow, especially when recent crack downs have seen 55,000 at-risk and homeless people having their Centrelink payments suspended.

Yet we sweep it all under the carpet and claim that "people who have a go will get a go," while hostile architecture is erected across our cities - things like spikes, sprinklers and harsh lighting around buildings and parks - to prevent people living rough from seeking shelter where they can. Thus perpetuating this separatist idea of "us" vs "them". After all, if we can't see them, they don't exist, right?

Is this really who we are? Is this who we want to be? Is this our national identity?

When social services funding is inadequate, when social security payments are withheld, when we close our eyes to the reality of homelessness, are we not first creating the problem and then punishing it?