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More than a roof over your head

Individuals and families find themselves homeless due to a variety of reasons, none of their own choosing

A couple of weeks ago, 11 Certificate IV Community Services students from Shellharbour TAFE and their teacher Monique Ferguson (some of them pictured above) teamed up with Wollongong Emergency Family Housing. The idea was to hold a family fun day event at North Wollongong Beach. The object of this was to raise awareness about homelessness and the lack of stable, affordable housing.

The concept was ‘ this community concern needs a community response'. The stalls and activities were either free or by donation. They included raffling the gifts donated by local businesses, rotary sausage sandwiches, Ethiopian food, face painting, and egg and clothes painting for children. A local hairdresser even donated her services and cut over 20 people's hair. There was also donated clothing and blankets and a children's reading corner.

The PCYC donated over $1000.00 in gym memberships and a local caravan park donated one night accommodation in one of their cabins. These prizes and goods and services from supportive businesses made the raffle very popular.

The success of the event was the offers of assistance by those attending. It was the children joining in the games, the joining of community, especially those who were homeless and those who support a community response to the issue.

There were also unexpected successes of the event. One long-term homeless community member was reunited with his brother after 17 years. His brother had recognised him in promotional material and turned up, determined to wait in the cold until they were re-united. This single moment bought tears to the eyes of all those involved.

Over 200 people turned up for the event, and the vibe was exciting. People were eagerly telling their stories and listening to others' stories of unstable housing and homelessness.

Individuals and families find themselves homeless due to a variety of reasons, none of their own choosing. The circumstances often include domestic and family violence, the chronic and ongoing shortage of affordable and available rental properties, financial difficulties and intergenerational poverty. Health issues such as physical or mental illness, disability and substance dependence can all contribute. And there are groups who are at high risk of facing homelessness. These include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, young people who've been in foster care, individuals released from prison and refugees.

The Wollongong event culminated in "SOS" being spelled out with candles on the beach. This was to "bring light" to the issue of homelessness in the local community and in our society. Events like this one and the recent annual St Vinnie's CEO Sleepout are important reminders to us all that having a home is a basic human right. Every night in Australia, one person in every 200 is homeless. The goal needs to be connecting the entire community because the issue is " our  citizens are homeless". In NSW alone, the number of homeless increased by 26 per cent in the previous five years. In April 2013, the national figure was cited as 105,237 by Homelessness Australia.

Given a set of precipitating factors, anyone could end up homeless and the impacts are immense. Attending school or studying becomes very difficult. People are vulnerable to long term unemployment, which contributes further to their experience of poverty. Homelessness leads to chronic ill health, mental health problems, poor nutrition, dental issues and substance abuse.

Homeless Australia puts it most succinctly: "Home is more than a roof over your head- it needs to be safe, secure and connected".

People who are homeless have the same needs and dreams as other people. With communities raising awareness and funds, we can work towards everyone having a home.

This post was co-authored by Monique Ziegelaar, Counsellor, and  Monique Ferguson, Community Services teacher, both at TAFE Illawarra

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