This information is provided to enable individuals and congregations to respond effectively and appropriately to the issue of homelessness at both a local and a state level.
We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty and racism within our society and beyond. We affirm the rights of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms. Statement to the Nation: Inaugural Assembly, June 1977
The Uniting Church in Australia recognises that the church should not be separate from the world, but present in the world in ways that are tangible and meaningful. The challenge is to work in partnership with people experiencing poverty and marginalisation in specific ministries that address their material and spiritual needs.
Jesus ministered to those on the very edges of society—people who were poor, hungry, sick and outcast. He challenges us to do the same.
The Bible contains a clear mandate for Christians to seek justice and to walk alongside those who are disempowered. In Matthew’s gospel we are reminded that those who are broken, isolated, discarded by society are the very ones in whom we are called to recognise the presence of Jesus himself. Paul calls on us to see things from God’s point of view: in Christ we are a new creation; a reconciled and reconciling community. The challenge is to find ways of not only “doing” in the wider community, but also of “being” a community who seek to bring reconciliation amongst people and with God. This means that we need to embrace flexible, effective and authentic responses to the needs of the communities of which we are part.
When we look at the world from God’s point of view, and see the face of Christ in those who we seek to serve, the things which separate us break down. In so doing we begin to participate in God’s ministry of reconciliation.
The definition of homelessness adopted by the Commonwealth Advisory Committee on Homelessness in 2001 and widely used in the community sector is based upon the work of Mackenzie and Chamberlain.
This definition includes three categories in recognition of the diversity of homelessness.
Primary homelessness is experienced by people without conventional accommodation (e.g. sleeping rough or in improvised dwellings).
Secondary homelessness is experienced by people who frequently move from one temporary shelter to another (e.g. emergency accommodation, youth refuges, ‘couch-surfing’).
Tertiary homelessness is experienced by people staying in accommodation that falls below minimum community standards (e.g. boarding houses, caravan parks, and forced share arrangements such as experienced by many people with disabilities).
A person experiencing homelessness is anyone who lacks access to safe and secure housing. In addition to people sleeping rough, people experiencing homelessness include those living in shelters, refuges, those staying temporarily with family and friends and some people living in caravans and boarding houses.
A person is considered not to have adequate housing if the only housing to which they have access:
- damages, or is likely to damage, their health
- threatens their safety
- marginalises them through failing to provide access to adequate personal amenities or the economic and social supports that a home normally affords
- places them in circumstances which threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security, affordability of that housing
- has no security of tenure: that is, they have no legal right to continued occupation of their home.
The profile of people experiencing homelessness has changed in recent years from the predominately older, lone male to include more woman, young people and families.
Data from the 2006 Census about the population of people experiencing homelessness indicates the following:
- More than two in three are adults over 18 years of age.
- One in eight are children under 12 years of age.
- One in five are young people between 12 and 18 years.
- Just under half (44%) are female children and women.
- Three in four people experiencing homelessness are single.
- One in seven are couples.
- One in ten are in homeless families (26,790 people or 7,483 families).
- Though families represented only 10% of all homeless households, they included one-quarter (26%) of the homeless population.
People become homeless for a range of reasons including:
- Family breakdown
- Family violence
- Unemployment due to changes in the labour market structure
- High rents and low vacancy rates in the private rental market
- Leaving mental health institutions or prisons
- Alcohol and substance misuse
- A decrease in the supply of low cost housing.
Specialist Homelessness Services collection Information for the homelessness sector.
Australia’s homeless youth: Report of the National Youth Commission independent inquiry into youth homelessness, April 2008
Housing Australia Fact sheet (PDF): a quick guide to housing facts and figures
Fact sheets—Homelessness Australia Statistics in infographic form are from Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness 2011 and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013, Specialist Homelessness Services Data Collection 2012-13
Wesley Mission Sydney—The faces of homelessness
The 500 Lives 500 Homes project is a three-year campaign to break the cycle of homelessness for families, young people and adults in Brisbane who are homeless or vulnerably housed – launched in 2014 by a coalition of government and non-government agencies supported by the Queensland Government’s Home for Good initiative and Brisbane City Council.
National Shelter is a national peak housing organisation which aims to improve housing access, affordability, appropriateness, safety and security for people who are on low-incomes, or who face disadvantage in the housing system. National Shelter works towards this goal by influencing government policy and action, and by raising community awareness in relation to housing.
Queensland Youth Housing Coalition (QYHC) A not-for-profit coalition of organisations and individuals working to improve housing options and related issues. QYHC contributes at both policy and service delivery levels to the provision of services for homeless and at risk of homelessness young people.
Queensland Youth Housing Coalition On 01 April 2009 a film festival (organized by Kelly Bucknall on her social work placement) asked entrants to make a 90 second film about homelessness. There were 2 categories for entries – Community Members and Young People.
Other Stories on youtube
Books about homelessness available from Trinity Theological Library
Level 1, Uniting Church Centre 60 Bayliss Street Auchenflower QLD 4066
Stories from the Street: A Theology of Homelessness by David Nixon (2013)
From the Publisher: “Stories from the Street” is a theological exploration of interviews with men and women who had experienced homelessness at some stage in their lives. Framed within a theology of story and a theology of liberation, Nixon suggests that story is not only a vehicle for creating human transformation but it is one of God’s chosen means of effecting change. Short biographies of twelve characters are examined under themes including: crises in health and relationships, self-harm and suicide, anger and pain, God and the Bible.
Expanding the existing literature of contextual theology, this book provides an alternative focus to a church-shaped mission by advocating with, and for, a very marginal group; suggesting that their experiences have much to teach the church. Churches are perceived as being active in terms of pastoral work, but reluctant to ask more profound questions about why homelessness exists at all. A theology of homelessness suggests not just a God of the homeless, but a homeless God, who shares stories and provides hope. Engaging with contemporary political and cultural debates about poverty, housing and public spending, Nixon presents a unique theological exploration of homeless people, suffering, hope and the human condition”.
Where there’s hope there’s life: Women’s Stories of Homelessness and Survival by Anthony Gittins (2006)
This book introduces readers to twelve homeless women in a way that will change our perception of the poor on our streets. Here, we encounter them in their own voices. We discover their pain while we realize their beauty and strength. Their stories are not intended to elicit guilt or pity, but to evoke compassionate understanding and a concrete response. These stories help us to identify more closely with the homeless and forgotten people who are not far from any of us. As we fall in love with them (and one another) we realize that, above all, where there’s hope, there’s life.
Goodwill alone is never quite enough. Thus in the second part of the book, the author provides us with a theological framework that will free us from our fear and prejudice and allow us to share more fully in the hope which is offered to all people.
More than just a roof: a study of family homelessness in Queensland by Peter Walsh, Lara Cain and Catherine Milford (2003)
This report shows that thousands of Queensland families experience the reality of not having a roof over their heads. It requires more than affordable housing and providers must be able to address the complexity of family homelessness. In addition to housing and housing assistance there needs to be policies and practices which identify the at risk ; improved and integrated responses ; better access to complaint services ; and enhanced use of domestic violence protection orders.
A Home for the Homeless: A social-scientifc criticsm of 1 Peter, It’s Situation and Strategy by John H. Elliott (1981)
From the publisher’s website A Home for the Homeless – “Already an acknowledged expert on 1 Peter, John Elliott here combines New Testament exegesis and a keen knowledge of the Hellenic world with the emergent sociological analysis of the New Testament. Elliott has produced a fascinating statement of the broad social setting and religious meaning of an important but often overlooked piece of early Christian literature. It is clearly a significant methodological statement which has ramifications beyond a study of 1 Peter.” (John R. Donahue, SJ author of The Gospel in Parable)
Principles of Engagement
The causes of homelessness are complex and not immediately evident. When we seek to serve people we need to recognise that the obvious solution may not be the most helpful. We also need to understand that each of us views “the other” through the lens of our life experience and a range of preconceptions and prejudices about the causes of poverty and disadvantage.
“To do no harm” is the first dictum of medicine and other health-related professions, and it applies with equal force to our efforts to solve social problems. Many social “remedies” are beset with unintended harmful consequences created by reckless intervention under the guise of helping.
This does not mean we fail to respond at all. Rather, in responding, we should be careful to listen to and empower those whom we seek to serve, and to understand that right relationships are core to effective change.
The Guiding Principles below are written to be of assistance in knowing how to approach people, how to be with people, and how to not add to the harm people have already experienced.
Looking inside ourselves
When we meet a person who lives on the fringes of society, such as someone experiencing homelessness, our own values, beliefs and prejudices influence our reactions. Unconsciously, we will make assumptions about their actions, capabilities and needs. It is essential that we look inside ourselves to examine our reactions carefully in the light of our Christian belief in the worth and dignity of each person. We are all created in the image and likeness of God.
Acknowledging the humanity of each person
One of the fundamental principles of ministry is the acknowledgement of the humanity and personhood of every individual. We understand that “personhood” comes from within; it is the gift of life itself and is present even in those society rejects. People who are devalued may have their identity as unique human beings so deeply negated that they become defined by their “otherness”. Personhood is only assured when the humanity of each person is honoured as a matter of daily experience.
Standing with people
To be of real assistance to people we must go beyond expressing solidarity or mere physical presence. Our walk with others must be alongside them, in authentic and committed relationships that respect their personal freedom and will. When people have been deeply wounded, a worthy and loving relationship could have a significant impact on their life.
Being in right relationship
An ethics of ‘Right relations’ puts relationships at the centre of how we act. It is characterised by treating those we serve with appropriate respect, integrity and value. This notion requires us to treat a person as an equal authority in his or her own life.
Self-direction means having the degree of control and choice we desire over those parts of life that are important to us. When people enter a system, especially a large one, their own needs may become secondary to those of the system. We can help people to find their voice by assisting them to articulate their goals and to find ways of working towards them. We can support them to have authority over their own lives.
Addressing real needs
It is essential that we address people’s real needs, not what we assume are their needs. The person’s most urgent and pressing problems should be addressed first.
Six essential questions and choices
Mary Sellon and Daniel Smith, in ‘Practicing Right Relationship’, talk about our struggle to truly engage with our neighbour. They pose the following six choices that will make it possible for us to relate in loving ways and move toward fulfilling and life-giving relationships.
- What do I want my relationship with this person to be like?
- What attitudes and values do I want to honour as I’m with this person?
- What must I let go of in order to turn towards this person?
- What is the goodness in this person that I will see and trust?
- How will I acknowledge to the person the holy goodness that I see in her or him?
- What will I dare ask of this person?
Here are some steps to support people who are experiencing homelessness.
- Become informed about homelessness and poverty. In addition to those sleeping rough, people experiencing homelessness include those living in shelters and refuges, those staying temporarily with family and friends and some people living in caravans and boarding houses. The profile of people experiencing homelessness has changed in recent years from the predominately older, lone male to include more women, young people and families. See the ‘understanding homelessness’ section above.
- Do not assume that people experiencing homelessness are all alike. There are many circumstances that can cause a person to become homeless. The shabby person on the street may be the stereotype, but the homeless person may be a woman fleeing a domestic violence situation with her children, someone who is working but unable to make enough to pay the rent, or someone living out of a car.
- Talk to the person with respect and listen to their story. People experiencing homelessness face isolation and rejection. It means a lot when someone is treated in a civil and respectful way.
- Share the love of Christ. Encourage every person with loving words and actions. This is the most powerful witness you can give. Everybody needs is to be listened to and respected for who they are, regardless of their beliefs or personal lifestyle. Doing so is a powerful gift.
- Pray for them. It is amazing how much people experiencing homelessness appreciate someone taking the time to listen to their concerns. If it seems appropriate you could offer to pray with them or to remember them in your own prayers. You may feel powerless to help someone in a difficult situation, but the power of prayer connects you with a powerful God!
- Cash is not always the answer. It is difficult to know how to respond when you are approached for money. Almost every church will have a policy in place, and most ministry agents and welfare workers advise that the person be directed to the nearest agency or nominated person (such as the minister) where they can receive help. Generally, if someone says they need money for food, it is better to buy food than to give cash.
- Support ministries that alleviate poverty and homelessness. Volunteer or donate financially to Wesley Mission Queensland or Lifeline.
- Help start a community group. Your church or community may be interested in starting a new group to meet the needs of those in your local area. This may be a food program at schools, or safe places for people living with homelessness, or a buddy program mentoring young people at risk.
- Support policies aimed at the root causes of poverty and disadvantage. You can advocate for more affordable housing for low-income workers and for facilities in your community to support those at risk of homelessness .
- Lobby Government. See the contact list of Queensland MPs or Federal MPs
Contacting your local member of parliament
- Visiting your local member of parliament is one of the most effective things you can do to shape public policy. Find out what they are doing to address homelessness.
- Inviting your local member of parliament to church is particularly effective if your congregation is involved in some direct way with people who are homeless.
- Writing a letter to your member of parliament is an effective way to communicate your views to your elected representative. Personal letters are more effective than a copy of a form letter.
Points to consider:
- talk about how homelessness affects your community
- ask what they and their party are currently doing to address the issue
- provide a chance for the official to respond before raising another issue
- ask for a written response to any specific query
- follow up your meeting with a letter, with a reminder about your concerns and any commitments they may have made during the meeting.
This information was adapted from the joint initiative of the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)