Editorial: Australian poverty – closer than you think

During Anti-Poverty Week quite some years ago, I attended an event which I was reporting on for Revive. At this event, I was told that homelessness comes in many forms and its definition was basically a  lack of stable accommodation. I was, at the time, staying at my brother’s house, sleeping in my niece’s room while my children slept on mattresses on the floor. After a relationship breakdown, we ‘crashed’ at my brother’s house with his family for a month while I found a way to get back on my feet.

It was quite confronting; I’d just finished my degree, I had a great job, and here I was writing an article about the unseen side of homelessness while realising I was ‘homeless’ myself.

Anti-Poverty Week is  from 12-18 October. It’s aimed at building awareness around poverty in Australia and around the world. Globally, we see so many images of impoverished communities. When my brother, my kids and I went to India a few years ago, we saw poverty on the streets everywhere we went. We saw mothers and their children lie down to bed on pedestrian islands in the middle of busy roads.  We saw people washing themselves at public taps on the streets of Kolkata.

In Australia, poverty is much more hidden, silent and solitary. But it is there. The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) found in a 2014 report that 12.8% of people in Australia are living below the  poverty line. Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 19.3% are living in poverty.

Sue Ash, CEO at Uniting Care West said that it takes just a few unexpected downfalls for some to lose everything.

“It can be easy to find yourself in a vulnerable situation,” she said. “If a person were to become ill or is made redundant, it doesn’t take long before their home is taken away from them.”

I was lucky, those years ago, to have a supportive family that allowed me to pull myself together. Others are not as fortunate. This Anti-Poverty Week, I encourage you to find out more by getting along to  one of the events which are running all over the country, including the Annual Anti-Poverty Week Ecumenical Service, this year being held at St Georges Cathedral, Perth at 12noon on Wednesday 25  October. You can even get a free haircut while you’re there.

For more info on Anti-Poverty Week visit http://www.antipovertyweek.org.au/about/about-anti-poverty-week

Heather Dowling

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