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National Homelessness Conference 2018 - Report by Margot Politis

Over the 6th and 7th August, I attended the 2018 National Homelessness Conference in Melbourne, convened by AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute) and Homelessness Australia. I was honoured to represent Milk Crate Theatre by invitation of Homelessness NSW, in our co-presentation Changing the Story of Homelessness. This presentation by myself, Chris Hartley (Senior Project Officer Homelessness NSW) and Maddy (Consumer Representative and Advocate) was part of a larger panel session titled Never About Us Without Us, exploring best practice examples of embedding lived experience and consumer participation in service structures; facilitated by Talie Star (poet, Consumer Advocate, and member of HNSW Policy Council).

Chris, Maddy and myself talked about our new joint venture – a lived experience consumer advocacy program, whereby Homelessness NSW is hosting a series of consultations with consumers of homelessness services. These consultations will inform a structured training program for consumers of these services to become advocates and consultants in their own right. Milk Crate Theatre will provide elements of this training relating to personal confidence (through strengthening of body and physicality, voice, and presentation skills) and interpersonal confidence (listening and responding, eye contact, spatial awareness, body language and interactivity).

You can find our presentation here.

Also presenting on this panel session were Jody Letts (Peer Education and Support Program (PESP) Council to Homeless Persons) and Ian Gough (Manager Consumer Programs Council to Homeless Persons), and Mark Morel (Peer Advisor NEAMI National) and Camilla Williams (Acting Service Manager NEAMI National) – both organisations expressing the key elements of the work they do to ensure that consumer representation is at the fore of their policy development, and wider sector and public education.

Chris Hartley, Talie Star, Maddy and Margot Politis

I was struck by many of the presentations over these two days, but a few stood out for me. The first was the International Keynote Address by Professor Marah Curtis (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Presenting her research exploring how poverty and intersecting vulnerabilities impact on housing security and homelessness in the US, Professor Curtis pointed out that one of the most pressing issues regarding income for people at risk of homelessness is not necessarily the amount of money a person has access to (though of course this is an integral factor), but more so the regularity of that income. Looking at the most common occupations among low income Americans, we see that shift work and ad hoc jobs contribute to unpredictability of income. What this means is that when what Professor Curtis refers to as a “life shock” occurs (sudden illness of a child, injury, job loss, family break up), a person’s financial situation can be thrown into chaos.

The suggested solutions here are that “stabilising income, stabilises housing” – that regular income supports can allow for access to and maintenance of housing; as opposed to “small income infusions”, which she deems is inconsequential in a person’s ability to manage short-term crises.

You can read her presentation here.

Another presentation I found particularly striking if not only for it’s revelation of statistical evidence, was by Hon Martin Foley MP, Victorian Minister for Housing, Disability and Ageing – Hearts and Homes: public perceptions on homelessness. The responses by surveyed Victorians relating to their understanding of the causes of homelessness (personal responsibility versus systemic), and who is responsible for creating change (again, the person versus the Government) was eye-opening indeed.

You can read the stats here.

And, as ever, Kate Colvin heading up the Everybody’s Home campaign, was a vital part of the discourse of the event. Please read her presentation here and join the conversation here!

The National Homelessness Conference happens every four years, and as many commented, don’t we wish we had the resources to make this a more regular occurrence. This event is vital in gathering consumers and representatives from across Australia and the world, in discussing the inadequacies of systems that should be serving individuals and families better. More so, that there are solutions that already exist, the data has been collated, the people have been surveyed, and we know what is needed. I am in awe of and hold sincere gratitude toward these wonderful advocates, who are working passionately and tirelessly towards implementing solutions.

It was not lost on any of us that the conference was held at the MCG, considering recent reports that there are enough homeless people in Australia to fill this sporting arena. Let’s do what we can to stand up and demand better for our fellow Australians.

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