Tomorrow, Thursday 16 June 2011, St Vincent de Paul Society holds the Vinnies CEO Sleepout in capital cities across Australia. The event challenges business and community leaders to experience homelessness first-hand for one night, raise money, and with fresh insight go on to effect change in social opinions on this serious issue. All money raised goes directly towards the ongoing provision of Vinnies’ homeless services across the country.
In an article published on the Australian Jesuits’ Eureka Street website under the heading “Admiring the homeless”, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, writes that the CEO Sleepout is all about trying to learn a little and share a little about the world of homelessness in a wealthy country. Whether we like it or not, we are all, in reality, part of that world. The CEO Sleepout is not just about raising money. It’s about changing minds and hearts. It’s about changing negative attitudes to people doing it tough; people who are usually demonised but who, in his view, should be deeply respected and admired for their tenacity and inventiveness.
A sociologist working in the fields of social justice and collective social change, Dr Falzon further writes that “Our problem in Australia is not the ‘idleness of the poor’, as perniciously proposed by welfare-bashers of all political stripes. Our problem is inequality. This is a social question, not a behavioural one. We do irreparable harm when we turn it into a question of individual behaviour, blaming people for their own poverty, as is so often the case with people who are homeless or in jail because of society’s failure to provide them with opportunities and nurture their talents.”
According to Dr Falzon, “people are enclosed by massive walls built around them on the basis of race, class, gender or disability. The same people are then condemned for lacking the ‘aspiration’ to scale these walls. The CEO Sleepout is not about a group of privileged people explaining how to scale the walls. It is about a group of business and community leaders wanting to learn from the people who live in the guts of our greatest social problem. It’s about having the humility to listen to the people who can teach us what it is that needs to change in society. It is about committing ourselves to join in the long-haul project of tearing down the walls that we have built around people.”
Australia stands near the bottom of the list of relative social expenditures in comparison with OECD countries. Professor Peter Saunders of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW has been saying for nearly a decade that it would take an expenditure of 2–3 per cent of GDP to lift all people out of poverty in Australia. In his words: “We can thus pay to remove all Australians from poverty if we want to: the fact that we don’t do so is a matter of choice, not affordability.”
In Dr Falzon’s view, “It is indefensible that in a country as prosperous as ours we still have, on conservative estimates, 105,000 people experiencing homelessness, nearly half of whom are under the age of 25. It is indefensible that we continue to expect a single unemployed person to survive on $34 a day, a daily battle that is waged from below the poverty line.”
The Federal Government’s homelessness strategy aims by 2020 to halve homelessness and to ensure that all rough sleepers are offered accommodation. The St Vincent de Paul Society is committed to assisting in the achievement of these concrete goals.
Dr Falzon concludes that “we must, as a nation, address the massive shortfall in social housing in order to meet these targets. We must also comprehensively address the national crisis in mental health. Our social spending relative to our wealth as a nation is the measure of our humanity. This is why we need to think of homelessness as a matter of justice rather than charity.”
To support a CEO taking part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout by making a donation click here.
To view the full article by Dr Falzon, click here.
Dr John Falzon PhD is a sociologist who works as an advocate on issues of social justice, especially poverty, inequality, housing, homelessness and social security. He has written and spoken widely on the structural causes of marginalisation and inequality in Australia and the alternative vision of a new society based on social justice. He has long been involved in advocacy campaigns for a fairer and more equitable society, especially in regard to welfare legislation, housing justice, homelessness and poverty.
Dr Falzon has worked in academia, in research and advocacy, and in community development in large public housing estates. He was a participant in the 2020 Summit and has served as a member of the ACOSS Board. In 2009 he was also appointed to the Federal Government’s Community Response Task Force to provide advice on the impact of the Global Financial Crisis on disadvantaged households and, more recently, to the High Level Consultative Committee on the Energy White Paper. He is the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council Chief Executive and a member of the Australian Social Inclusion Board.