Published on abc.net.au // April 8, 2016
KIM LANDERS: On any given night across Australia, up to 100,000 people will be sleeping rough.
But one Canadian expert is questioning whether authorities here are more focused on managing the numbers of homeless people, rather than trying to end the problem.
He's just one of the people taking part in a forum in Brisbane today on the issue, as Courtney Wilson reports.
COURTNEY WILSON: At 56, Wayne Downes found himself in Brisbane, out of work and with nowhere to live.
WAYNE DOWNES: Queen Street Mall is where I first slept and then, a pretty dangerous place to sleep.
A lot of people there come up there, want to you know, go through your gear. They want to, you know, not do the right thing to you.
COURTNEY WILSON: A trained chef, Wayne Downes wanted a job but not having a place to live proved the bigger problem.
WAYNE DOWNES: You try and find somewhere where there’s, you know, you feel safe, you know like at a bus stop, or in a park, or somewhere. Hopefully it doesn't rain. But it's not always the case.
COURTNEY WILSON: Canadian Iain de Jong is an international advocate for social change.
He leads a consulting company which works with community groups trying to address the issue of homelessness and has helped to drive successful campaigns in North America and Europe.
Mr De Jong argues rather than trying to manage the problem, authorities should be working to end homelessness all together.
IAIN DE JONG: The exercise of ending homelessness isn't a technical one, it's an adaptive one.
Are we willing to think about this complex social issue in a completely different way than we have historically?
COURTNEY WILSON: How is that different to what's mostly happening now in the Western world, in terms of how we look at and try to manage the issue of homelessness?
IAIN DE JONG: We often pathologise homelessness, or we look at the symptoms or the issues of the person.
So for example, we'll often see homelessness as an addiction issue or as a mental health issue or an issue with chronic primary health concerns when really, we can address all those things fine and dandy. But let's do it after we get the person housed.
So we don't have to solve their life issues prior to solving their homelessness.
COURTNEY WILSON: Mr De Jong says in Australia, like other parts of the developed world, a big part of the solution lies with affordable housing.
IAIN DE JONG: So the cost of housing has gone up and up and up and perhaps wages haven't kept up, or people can afford less housing or maybe even been dislodged from housing, what we really need to think of is a prioritisation of the assets.
So if we do have housing assets that might be available with government assistance, who of all the people that have needs should get those.
COURTNEY WILSON: Karyn Walsh is CEO of Micah Projects, a community group that works to find housing solutions for people who are homeless.
She says governments at every level need to prioritise addressing Australia's affordable housing crisis.
KARYN WALSH: I mean Australia has a national asset of social housing that we undervalue, and that it gets, you know, demonised a bit but we know what we have to do to make social housing work, and we know that it's affordable, and the models of social housing that you need.
COURTNEY WILSON: Leaders from Micah Projects have been helping Wayne Downes. He'd picked up an infection from sleeping rough, but now he has a place to live and he's on the mend.
WAYNE DOWNES: They gave me a unit to live in, got that all organised for me.
COURTNEY WILSON: Could you have found yourself a place to stay without the help of some of the organisations that have offered you a hand along the way?
WAYNE DOWNES: Very difficult, cause they, you know, they want references and with no money, you know, it's practically impossible.
COURTNEY WILSON: Mr Downes says now that he's off the streets, he's working towards finding a job.
WAYNE DOWNES: It gives you focus, you know, you've got somewhere you can actually go home and have a shower, you can cook a feed.
Oh it's an amazing thing. It gives you hope, when you think there's no hope at all.
COURTNEY WILSON: Iain De Jong says stories like Wayne Downes' prove what works.
IAIN DE JONG: Housing is the only known cure to their homelessness, so focusing on that is really important.
KIM LANDERS: Canadian social change advocate Iain De Jong ending Courtney Wilson's report.
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