This is a complex issue. This article is meant to provide an overview.
As residents of Melbourne’s CBD we do not want to see people sleeping rough and begging as shown in the photo taken in Collins St late in the afternoon.
Not 10 metres away was a regular beggar who takes up the same spot each day and has been doing that for around five years. He’s well known to locals.
In modern day 21st century can’t our society do better than this?
Begging is illegal under the Summary Offences Act and enforcement is the responsibility of the police. However, the police do not interfere if the beggar is passive, non-aggressive and non-violent. Tourists happily fill their pockets. If you watch, the beggars periodically hide the money making the unsuspecting think that they have only collected a few coins.
The problem we face is that the rate of homelessness is increasing each year. We only have data from the 2011 Census. Nevertheless there were 106,237 homeless people in Australia then, an increase of 8 per cent over the census five years previously.
A good source for information about homelessness and what governments, in conjunction with not-for-profit organisations and medical establishments are doing about the problem, is the web site for Homelessness Australia, the national peak body that deals with the issue.
The City of Melbourne relies on more than 70 “help organisations” throughout the city and produce a booklet and map called Helping Out.
People working in the homelessness sector often say “people experiencing homelessness” instead of “the homeless” or “homeless people”. This is because for most people, homelessness is an experience (often short-term) not a life sentence. Saying “experiencing homelessness” is one of the first steps to changing the perception of homelessness.
What are not-for-profit organisations doing?
Not-for-profits play an important role in helping people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
There are a large number of charities and not-for-profits which do a number of things for people who are homeless. This can include accommodation services, collection of resources (food, clothing …), advocacy services, advice, financial support, skills and employment services, health services.
How can residents help?
Some things you can do are:
- Educate – help to dispel the stereotype of a homeless person! Learn about the reasons for homelessness – every situation is unique;
- Respect – remember that people who are homeless are people too. Give people who are homeless the same respect and courtesy you would your family and friends;
- Donate – you can donate a lot of things – money, toys, clothing or food;
- Volunteer – you can volunteer not only your time but also your skills and expertise; and
- Don’t give spare change to beggars – give something to eat or refer them to one of the help agencies.