Homelessness: Have We, As A Society, Become Jaded?


How do we solve the homelessness problem? What do we believe is the cause? Is the rate of homelessness increasing?

Recently I completed a survey on a government website regarding attitudes to homelessness and realised I could only pick one answer from the options available.

What is the leading cause of homelessness?

How am I to pick between drug and alcohol, mental illness, and domestic/family violence? I assume all those factors are pretty high on the causation scale. I certainly don’t believe people become homeless due to a single reason.

How do people get out of homelessness?

Get a job, find somewhere to stay, they can’t… Somewhere in between? It seems so difficult for people to break the cycle.

I don’t pretend to know the answers but in completing this survey it became pretty clear where my values sat in terms of blaming the person for their situation.

And, yet, I haven’t generally¬†given money to homeless people except in exceptional circumstances.


A little bit of fear – I don’t know how they will react. A bit of suspicion and uncertainty and, let’s be honest, a whole lot of jaded.

Do I believe the majority of homeless people are there by choice? No! But somewhere along the time I seem to have a little voice that says “They’re ripping you off”. I seem to have learnt to be inherently suspicious of anyone asking for money.

I have a strong suspicion I’m not alone.

So where does this come from? Are we taught it? Is it selfishness or some kind of deep-seeded mistrust of the “other”? Is it a way of justifying our position of privilege by assuming the people on the other side of the poverty line are not just like us.

It doesn’t help that we’re told all our lives that homeless people are drug addicts and alcoholics and any money that we give them will go straight to that.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what we think. But I don’t like it.

So what’s the solution? Do we start handing out money left, right and centre? Do we act locally to help those we see on the street? Can we campaign for better supports from the government? Should we be working at shelters, providing donations to community support, or helping out in other ways?

I feel like homelessness in Sydney is getting worse, I seem to be seeing more and more people living on the streets as I walk to and from work each day. I really wish I knew the best way to help.

One thing is for sure – I’m not comfortable just walking by.

Do you give money to people you see living on the street? Do you trust that they are legitimately homeless? Do you know what we could do about homelessness?

  • Gary

    I’ve given money but there have been times when I’ve had time I’ve gone and bought some fruit and toiletries and given them to the person I may have passed.

  • http://www.normalness.com/ NormalNess

    I don’t have much spare to give so I look for opportunities to contribute in other ways. I heard on the grapevine earlier this year that a local community organisation was collecting art supplies for therapy and fun for a womens refuge, so I dug through stuff I had in the cupboard & didn’t use and dropped that in instead.

  • http://www.beyondtheflow.com Rowena Dreamer

    Tamsin, as a person living with chronic illness, I have no personal income but I do try to buy the Big Issue when I spot a vendor and I have posted about homelessness on my blog on occasions. I blog with a girl who is currently employed but homeless and couch surfing and we keep in touch. On Monday, when I was in the city, I had a chat with a Big Issue vendor and his dog which I’ve shared on my blog here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/sleeping-rough-in-sydney-meet-tim-his-dog-nugget/
    xx Rowena

  • ShaezyB

    I’ve volunteered for two years with a local service providing evening meals to our homeless (and at-risk/disadvantaged) community in outer western Sydney. I have seen people who probably could do more to help themselves but who prefer the easy way, which is very frustrating. I know people for whom this is a temporary situation and they are able to get back on their feet but need the support right now. I know people who dropped out of society for various reasons (usually older men who suffered a traumatic experience years ago and have never had support) and will never, ever be able to rejoin it. I know people who couch surf, share squalid housing, sleep in car parks, camp on the river or in the bush; and those who push themselves to work low paying jobs, but need help feeding their family because all their money goes on rent, bills, and travel in order to keep their job.

    Interestingly, although there are definitely mental health issues in many of the long-term people, addiction of any kind is rare in those I know. And of the addicts I know, about half became homeless largely due to addiction and its consequences, but the other half became addicts largely due to homelessness and *its* consequences. And these are just a few examples – I haven’t even mentioned the returned veterans, kids kicked out of home and missed (or given up on) by the system, abused women escaping violence… the list goes on.

    Homelessness is a remarkably complex issue, with no easy answers. It’s also important to note that the definition of “homeless” is broad as it means a lack of a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the ability to control living space. Homeless does not necessarily equal roofless. Even after all this time, I don’t know the answer. I wish I did. I always remember that most people are only a couple of pay checks and a run of bad luck away from the possibility homelessness. And after meeting the people we help, I know it’s true.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      That scares me because it’s true. I wish the government did more to help.