House + Love = HOME???

“People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes”. – Sheila McKechni

The first week of August marks National Homelessness Week in Australia. Over the week, several organisations and advocates host a mix of local community and national events to raise awareness, inform and educate the public on the impact of homelessness. They seek to also highlight the importance of housing as a solution and share about how we can contribute to changing the narrative for those at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.

At the last census in 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that there were over 116,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night. I think that is one too many people and I suspect the figures are much higher than this. Even more heartbreaking are the figures that continue to emerge from various studies about which sections of the population are most affected by homelessness and why. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, children and young people are among those at highest risk. In recent years, older women have been among the fastest growing group of people that are at risk of homelessness.

While reading through some of the content shared by various organisations, I was reminded about my ignorance a few years ago. So, in this post I would like to share a bit about the learning journey I have been on in relation to housing and homelessness issues. I would also like to share about some inspiring initiatives I have come across.

When I started the PhD journey, I was clueless about many things. My initial research topic was too broad, and with just 3 years of experience as a public servant I still had much to learn. I had landed an entry level role in a program evaluation team, however, with little to no experience, save for an evaluation unit I had completed in my masters program.

For those unfamiliar with program evaluation, it is a useful tool that organisations and governments use to systematically assess efficiency and effectiveness of programs, projects, or policies. That is, it is a tool that helps determine whether the desired outcomes of an initiative are being realised. If it works out to be the opposite, then the findings from an evaluation can help decision makers determine a course of action. It may mean they have to adjust, make radical changes, or completely cease the initiative so resources are reinvested elsewhere.

Essentially, I spent the first couple of years trying to wrap my head around the inner workings of government, reading as much as I could on evaluation (I’m still learning by the way!). and shadowing brilliant senior colleagues. I did not have time to explore policy areas in detail.  So, when my PhD supervisors highlighted that I would have to pick a specific policy topic to base my study on, I was unnerved and excited at the same time because my interests are just too many.

My supervisors indicated that my topic was too broad, and it was important to ensure the scope of my study was manageable. Not only that but it had to be something I would be passionate about because I would be investing a lot into it (note, this ‘lot’ includes tears).

I could have just neatly carved my thesis to overlap with evaluation. However, I naively thought to myself, “Challenge and stretch yourself. Go for the deep child”. After some months of deliberation, I decided I would focus on examining the role of peak bodies in housing and homelessness policy. What a steep and confronting learning curve this has been.

I used to think that the issue of homelessness was mostly about finding accommodation for people sleeping rough on the streets. I also thought most of the homeless had underlying drug and alcohol issues and was misinformed about a lot. Through my research journey I have learnt that homelessness is a lot more complicated and goes beyond the issue of people sleeping rough! The ‘house +love = home’ equation does not add up if many other
factors are not in place e.g. housing is inadequate, employment is an issue or health of family and
relationships are a challenge

There are many more people that are living in shelters, couch surfing, and living in unsuitable housing. These individuals and families form part of the ‘invisible’ homeless, and like those sleeping rough, need adequate and stable housing. Not only are they in need of housing but they too are humans in need of the same compassion, kindness and grace we all yearn for!!!

I have not written much on it because I’ve always felt like a late comer to the table and as most research students will tell you, imposter syndrome is a thing. However, I am learning to fight it a lot more, hence this post!

I spent a great chunk of 2020 swimming in policy documents and some homelessness literature. I must admit, the more I read the more overwhelmed I felt. The spectrum of issues to address is wide, the players involved in the debates are many and the views on what is the best path forward are numerous!! It is complicated, but, complicated does not mean we cannot still do something. For me, the key areas to focus on (crudely simplified) are:

  1. People – those experiencing homelessness and the rest of the population that engages with those living through it and those at risk of being homeless especially those experiencing housing issues
  2. Policies – which governments are responsible for
  3. Partnerships – collaboration across government, private and NFP sector

There is a lot to unpack and at the risk of writing for days I will stop here and conclude by sharing this simple reminder. The next time you see a homeless individual or encounter a family experiencing housing issues be human. See each person through a lens of compassion and remember that they are not defined by their circumstances.

Finally, take some time out for introspection. Quiz yourself about your knowledge on the topics. Then, consider how you can make a difference. It may be through supporting an initiative or becoming more educated on the key issues so when opportunities arise to influence or speak on the matter, you are also contributing to the discussions positively! Below are some fantastic initiatives I’ve come across, considered, supported and simply followed over the last 4 years of my journey. I hope they can be of good use to you and that they inform and inspire you too!


Filthy Rich and Homeless:  I’ve shared previously about this show and I cannot recommend it enough! The documentary follows the lives of wealthy Australians who volunteer to swap their comfort and privilege for homelessness. What I love about the show is the empathetic and educational approach it takes. Confronting in most instances but effective at demonstrating the realities many people are living in daily.


Service providers, advocacy groups and individuals that are keen to also make a difference have been rallying to see systemic changes happen. To advance the cause, several campaigns have been running and the two I’ve come across are:

  • Everybody’s Home Campaign: working together to call on government to bring balance back to the system, so that everybody has a place to call home.
  • Raise the Rate: The campaign is key to reducing poverty and inequality in Australia. The goal is to fix the social security safety net for good so that it keeps people out of poverty, with an income of at least $65 a day.


Bed Down are partnering with Australia’s largest car park operator, Secure Parking, who operate over 600 car parks across Australia and New Zealand.
  • Bed Down: many homeless people suffer from sleep deprivation which can lead to many physical and mental health conditions. Bed Down repurposes spaces that are left vacant or empty at night to create safe, secure and comfortable pop-up accommodation to ensure the homeless, who are sleeping rough have a bed at night. They partner with other charitable organisations to also provide complementary services e.g. laundry, showers, food, clothing, health and wellbeing.

Social Enterprise

  • The Big Issue: this is an ‘independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting and creating work opportunities for people experiencing homelessness, marginalisation and disadvantage’. They run social enterprises that create work opportunities for individuals without access to mainstream employment
  • Homes for Homes: Aims to raise more than $1 billion (in the next 30 yrs) for social and affordable housing by raising funds through the sale and resale of properties. Money raised will be granted to experienced housing providers to tackle the lack of homes for those living on or below the poverty line. The construction should also boost jobs in the building and associated sectors.

If there are initiatives you’ve come across, regardless of your jurisdiction, I am keen to hear about them too. Feel free to drop a comment or get in touch and if you have any reflections you want to share too, drop a comment!

Until next time! 😊

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