Listen: Dr Michelle Mulvihill, Co-Founder of Dignity, in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Simone* has two children. Fleeing domestic violence, they were in danger of becoming part of the hidden homeless epidemic.
“You can have a 3 bedroom house with a double garage and car in it, and nobody knows you are being beaten up every day,” she said.
“You honestly don’t know where your next meal is coming from because he controls all of the money. The kids are hungry and there’s nothing to eat. It kills me.
“I reckon domestic violence has overtaken the biggest problems in Australia. Isn’t that shocking?”
Mitchell*, the law student who sleeps in his car
Mitchell is studying law at Sydney University. Being accepted to that course is quite an achievement — but even more so when you are homeless.
“I started Law at Sydney Uni and quickly ran out of funds. I knew for a long time that my parents could not support me. They’re just on a basic wage and barely make it from week to week,” Mitchell said.
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“I wanted to do well in life and I’m studying law. I have a $1,000 junk heap of a car and I now park it around the Uni. I sleep in it every night.
“I wash at the student union and I wash my clothes there too, and hope they are still there, dried out, at the end of the day.
“I eat at the cafeteria when I can afford it or at the soup kitchens around the city. Sometimes I get help from the late night food vans. Sandwiches and pies are my staple diet.
“I just about live in the library.”
Mitchell has a part time job at a city pub, and sometimes they let him study there.
The names of Simone and Mitchell have been changed. Everything else is all too real.
Their stories are representative of Australia’s epidemic of hidden homelessness. Hidden, because, tragically, these stories are all around us.
Homelessness is a growing issue in our nation, and one which is largely misunderstood.
While most media attention is given to ‘rough sleepers’ and inner city squatters, these represent a small proportion of Australia’s homeless.
Recent research also confirms that in the popular mind the cause of homelessness is often assumed to be drug abuse. In reality, as in the case of Simone, the most significant cause of homelessness is domestic violence.
Dignity was formed with a ‘housing first‘ philosophy. Their belief is that whatever the causes, the most immediate need of people or families in crisis is secure housing.
As Dignity co-founder, Dr Michelle Mulvihill, told Open House “we need to get people a home to live in first; then let’s wrap around the other services.”
With their housing first philosophy Dignity is achieving remarkable results.
After their initial stay in Dignity’s supported accommodation, and with Dignity’s assistance, Simone and her two girls have now settled into a privately rented 2 bedroom apartment. The Dignity team stays in regular contact and provides continuing support.
After his initial stay, Dignity helped Mitchell to find a well organised share house. Dignity keeps in touch at least fortnightly. They are celebrating Mitchell successfully completing his second year of law.
The housing first philosophy is proving successful in ensuring that individuals and families facing immediate crisis accommodation needs do not join the growing ranks of the long term homeless.
Greg*, the construction worker whose body is just worn out
Greg is approaching 60. Before he came to Dignity he was sleeping on a beach near Wollongong.
Greg worked his whole life in construction until poor health meant he could no longer continue.
He lived off his savings, cashed in his superannuation and stayed in a motel until the money ran out. Doctors agree he can’t work any more.
Facing homelessness, Greg came to Dignity where he felt secure and supported.
“They even surprised me with a cake for my 59th birthday.” he said.
With Dignity’s assistance Greg now has “a nice little one bedroom apartment to call home”.
He wants to establish a vegetable garden on the balcony and do some cooking for Dignity “So they can feed the homeless”.
Hands of Homelessness
‘Hands of Homelessness’ is a book that recounts, in their own words, the stories of 50 people in danger of long term homelessness whose seemingly intractable problems found solutions in 2018 through the efforts of the remarkable charity Dignity.
When we told the story of Dignity earlier this year Open House received a very positive response. Dignity is one of our favourite charities for 2018.
The gospel of Jesus is at the heart of this organisation whose website attests:
“The dignity of every person, independent of ethnicity, faith, gender, sexuality, age or ability, is the foundation of Dignity Ltd. No human being should have their dignity or freedom compromised. Poverty, hunger, oppression and injustice make it impossible to live a life commensurate with this dignity. At Dignity Ltd, all our works are people-centred with empowerment at their heart. People should never be treated as commodities nor as mere recipients of aid.”
‘Hands of Homelessness’ aims to challenge stereotypes and raise awareness of the real stories behind Australia’s growing homelessness epidemic.
Proceeds from the sale of this book will assist Dignity to provide for the housing needs of people at risk of long term homelessness.
*Names have been changed to safeguard privacy
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