The Fight for a Family Home
Having a roof over your head is not enough to alleviate the disadvantage faced by families without a home. A solitary person, sleeping-rough on the street, is the usual image of homelessness. Hidden behind that person could be an entire family, lost and alone; the family-head driven to seek help in public. In fact, between the years of 2011 and 2017, families accounted for more than half of all those who presented to Homelessness Services. We could be forgiven for thinking that begging on the street is a meagre effort to keep your family safe. But most of us would be thinking that from the comfort of our homes and all the advantages it brings. Sometimes it's all a person can do to seek help by being seen.
Mission Australia, in partnership with Sydney Western University, published an extensive report on family homelessness late last year (https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/publications/research/homelessness). Of all the disadvantaged families that took part in this study, not having a family home was one factor with a huge impact on risks to family members, resiliency, and family strength. For these people, everything is harder; whether it's finding work, finishing school, or accessing a safe place to sleep everyday. Those without a home most often found themselves that way because of unaffordable rent or family break-down and domestic violence. Regardless of the enormous hardship faced by disadvantaged families, the family network, homeless or not, is still important. Families were far more likely to find and access support from services while solitary people had a hard time finding where to get help.
Social networks and the family unit can be protective, but they can also greatly contribute to the cycle of disadvantage. Out networks are usually made up of people similar to us. If we are facing adversity and the only people we have to lean on are in a similar place, they might crumble, and we all fall into despair. This is what happens to families, straining to support themselves let alone one another. Families need homes. They need empathy and at least a minimum of unconditional support to break the cycle of disadvantage. Each family and each family member is different and may have different needs and skills. For Social Services to be effective they need to accommodate all kinds of people and families that present to them. We need to be made visible, even to the invisible in our community.