My thoughts on the @ceosleepout, by Joey King
How did I get here? I’m educated, articulate and used to be involved in my community through work and volunteering. Then, how have I found myself living in my car for almost three years?
Because I am a 53-year-old woman. The highest growing demographic for homelessness in Australia and I have had a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my life.
Have I asked for help? Yes! I used to work and teach Community Services and know how to do the research to find and ask for help. Have I been helped? No, I have received no assistance because I am a 53-year-old woman without children and I am the Government and any social services lowest priority. I am looking at least another two years before housing becomes available.
I am constantly stressed, afraid and triggered because my mental health is so unstable because of my financial and housing situation. I stay in the country because it’s safer for me to park in the bush somewhere than the city, but I have to constantly move because the rangers will fine me.
But the CEO’s have it handled. By spending a night sleeping ‘rough’ through the St Vinnies CEO Sleepout, with their sleeping bags, pillows and toilets close at hand. While receiving an encouraging nod that seems to give them permission to think they understand what I or any homeless person feels. I look at the photos and I see volunteers handing out coffee and snacks.
I look at 2020 and because of Covid, the CEO’s slept rough in their cars in their garages or on their couch. I look at the money raised and I wonder if the people donating so these CEO’s can feel good about themselves, even think of the people they’re supposed to be emulating. I look at the blurb where St Vinnies states “determined to help break the cycle of homelessness” and I know I have seen no break in my cycle with their assistance.
I know the money is put to good use through crisis accommodation, hardship and supporting homeless youth but there is no talk of helping women like me. I am not helped because I have a dog, I’m not prepared to give up, so I can be given accommodation and I’m considered low priority.
I don’t look like what people assume homeless people should look like. I am resourceful enough that I can maintain my hygiene and present well and I’m therefore not considered desperate enough to be helped.
To the hundreds of business, community and government leaders who participate, please do not think that this is an eye-opening experience. All you are experiencing is a hard floor, maybe being cold for a night, camaraderie in your joint self-righteousness, laughter, conversation and a hot shower, food, a warm bed and a clap on the back by your loving family when you go home the next day.
You will not experience uncertainty, fear, loneliness, truly being cold, vulnerability, mental and physical health decline because of the exposure, lack of mental and physical health support, risk of being assaulted or being moved on by police, discrimination, judgement, assumptions you are an alcoholic or drug addict, that you chose to be homeless.
If you truly want to be effective; then use your influence to pressure State and Federal Governments to do something about this ongoing crisis. Perth homelessness rose 60% in 2021 and is not going to stop until people that the Government is prepared to listen to speaks out loud and demands true action, not the token effort of one night, that raises money for a few.
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is poised to deliver a record budget surplus of about $9 billion this year. This money has the potential to end all street homelessness in Western Australia and end all public housing wait lists.
While the continued support of all housing service agencies is vital, this is a national and state problem that needs the support of business, community and government leaders across Australia, to ensure we, the homeless are heard and supported.
And as a side note, I’m betting a majority of the CEOs bring a hip flask to get them through a cold night. A bit like how they judge the homeless for being addicts or alcoholics.
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