The Christmas and New Year period can be a powerful time for us to reflect on what we’ve achieved this year, some of the goals we’ve knocked off and an opportunity to refuel and plan for the year ahead.
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a number of homeless people around the nation; there are two groups that always leave an impression on me: women and children. I have never seen such resolve and persistence than when I have spoken with homeless women.
In my experience, those on the street have usually decided to take that step due to either mental health issues or crippling family breakdowns. One rainy and windy winter night I recognised the hardship of living on the street, I spoke with a homeless woman who was waiting for accommodation while we were in the wake of blistering wind. I was fortunate enough to return home for dinner and a bed.
Around 46,000 women were homeless on Census night 2011, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a good number of whom were sleeping rough (on the street), or staying with friends or family or living in insecure/short-stay accommodation. Sixty six per cent of homeless children are accompanied by the care of a woman, which is typically their mother escaping domestic violence.
Women are at an increased risk of homelessness as a result of their greater exposure to violence, poverty and inequality. Domestic violence is the most often cited reason by women searching for homelessness.
The current research also suggests a worrying trend, that older women are facing homelessness for the first time. By being dependent on their partners’ assets and finances, family breakdown has a greater impact. Additionally, by having a lack of their own superannuation, being forced out of work early, poor health and housing-market discrimination, have all impacted that group of women.
At this point of the year, I believe having the discussion right now about those less fortunate than ourselves is very important for our community. There is widespread social-inequality facing our cities, where we work and live that goes largely unnoticed.
By defining our own future with distinct financial capacities, and by supporting those less fortunate than ourselves we in turn will leave our mark on society. This is an opportunity to encourage the next generation to be both ambitious and compassionate.
If our society is to be judged on how we look after the less-fortunate, then let’s start with those who are we can directly help and who are in real need. It makes perfect sense to consider our homeless women and children – the often forgotten, but in most need this Christmas.
How to help: You can start by giving to the following charities
The Salvation Army: accepting donations for its Christmas Appeal
Mission Australia: accepting donations to help give toys to children this Christmas
Stepping Stone House: helping homeless teenagers
Hutt St Centre: for vulnerable men and women in Adelaide
Youth Off The Streets: Christmas appeal
Homelessness NSW: for facts and figures regarding homeless women, and to make a donation