Listen: John Ferguson from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has used its 2018-19 Social Justice Statement to express deep concern about Australia’s alarming growth in homelessness and insecure housing.
More than 116,000 homeless
In A Place to Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land, the bishops call on Australians to look beyond the immediate challenges of the average household budget and to consider those who are homeless or facing housing stress because of skyrocketing rents and property prices.
In a letter to parishes, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said: “It seems hard to believe that in a rich nation such as ours, the latest Census figures show that the number of Australians who are homeless has grown to more than 116,000.
Housing costs out of control
“House prices and even rents are spiralling out of reach of too many families and placing huge financial stress on ordinary people, even when they are employed. For those living on pensions or allowances, finding secure housing can be a far greater challenge – one that often takes a terrible toll on social wellbeing and mental health.”
In his foreword to the statement, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chair, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, said a ruthless housing market was leaving people struggling to find secure and affordable housing, whether they lived in cities or regional areas.
Corrosive effect of housing struggle
“That struggle has a corrosive effect on family life, on employment, on study and on our capacity to contribute to and benefit from our society. At its worst, the struggle leaves the vulnerable in our society homeless – sleeping on the street, in cars or in doorways, or hoping for a space on someone’s couch or floor,” Bishop Long said.
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The Good Samaritan
The Social Justice Statement draws on Jesus’ famous parable of the Good Samaritan, offering a reminder that when seeing people in the street in need of help, wounded by violence, misfortune or poverty, there is a choice: Walk past or stop and help?
“Behind the people on the streets is another legion – those who are battling to keep the roof over their heads, wondering if they can make the next rent or mortgage payment,” Bishop Long said.
“Often, these are people who are employed but whose income is barely enough – or not enough – to keep themselves and their families housed and fed.
A human right
“Housing is a human right, asserted by documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the teachings of our Church. Housing is an essential entitlement for all people to meet their basic needs, flourish in community and have their inherent human dignity affirmed and upheld by others.”
This human right and the call of the Church was reinforced by the words and example of Pope Francis, who has made it a priority to reach out to the disadvantaged and marginalised of Rome, including homeless people, Bishop Long said.
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