Last week I was asked to speak at the opening of the 2nd annual “Sydney Homeless Connect” – a day when Town Hall is opened to the city’s homeless community to allow them to connect with service providers. Homeless people are given access to healthy food, clothing, haircuts, medical and dental checks for themselves and their pets and employment, legal and housing services, all donated by individuals, government departments and private companies.
This huge event is organised by Sydney Homeless Connect and their amazing crew of volunteers. Many of the volunteers are formerly homeless themselves, like one man I met named Ken who, after 10 years on the streets is now housed and helping others to understand the plight of those living rough.
It is hoped that, as well as making life easier for the homeless, the services they connect with on the day will help them to move towards breaking out of the homelessness cycle. The speech I gave on the day is available here.
While it was encouraging to see so many of our most disadvantaged people having a positive experience at the event, not everything on the day went so well.
As I was leaving, I noticed a young homeless woman sitting on the street less than 100m away from Town Hall. The bruises on her face told a story of the violence she had experienced in her life on the streets and despite the abundance of useful items being given away at the event she had nothing with her.
I asked her if she knew that Homeless Connect was going on and she told me that she did, and that she’d in fact just been inside. Yet despite the best intentions of the event she still hadn’t connected. She’d come out empty handed and without having interacted with the support services in any meaningful way.
What this sad story says is that we’ve got a lot to learn about helping the homeless. For a range of reasons such as mental illness, substance abuse and many others certain sections of the homeless community simply aren’t engaging with the services in place to help them. This is a complex problem with no simple answer that I can see, the only lesson to take away from it is that there’s still plenty more work to be done to end homelessness in the City of Sydney.