As many of you know I participated in the Lifewise Big Sleep Out last night and helped 80 or so other participants raise in excess of $150 000.00 to support the work that they do.
After an uncomfortable and broken night sleep I have come away with a new perspective on the homeless problem and a strengthened resolve that we can all do more to help people less fortunate than ourselves. I believe that homelessness is, in part, a by-product of a dysfunctional social welfare system.
This is something that the people who depend on that system are afraid to say. Many are in contact with agencies that seem disconnected from the problem. A recounted story of someone wanting to apply for an emergency benefit through WINZ being declined due to a lack of photo ID, something simple we all take for granted, triggered a spiral into living rough.
An experience that could have been avoided with a more proactive approach from the agency they had gone to for help.
It was enlightening listening to people speak last night. I heard stories from District Court judges, social workers and homeless or “roofless” people. There is a lot of good work being done but the support networks and charities working in this area seem very fractured and almost seem to be competing with each other, minimizing their effect.
Lifewise seems to be bucking the trend with a focus on getting rid of Band-Aid solutions. One great example of this is the abolishment of a Soup Kitchen and replacing it with a Café. It is all about raising peoples self esteem, integrating them back into society and giving them basic life goals. Eliminating the hand out mentality, something I am a strong advocate of.
The statistics are interesting; nearly 70% of people on the street have come out of some form of institution or foster care. This says to me that these people are being identified as at risk and are then being allowed to slip through the cracks. The youngest person known to be living rough (at this time) in Auckland City is 11 years old, which I believe is something we all need to be ashamed of.
There is also a high proportion of Maori represented, sadly there was little or no representation from the Maori community last night, in fact the bulk of us were very white and very middle class. I guess for me the big thing I took away from my rather protected and soft attempt at sleeping rough was that the problem is solvable. Everyone has a story and a reason for their situation but all of the barriers can be broken down and obstacles eliminated.
Sadly this cannot always be achieved by those at risk due to the seemingly overwhelming nature of the challenges they face.
They are in many instances things that are easily solved by people (like us) who have the resources and ability to problem solve, network and work our way through protocol and bureaucratic systems.
Everyone needs a chance and everyone can help.