How to respond to homelessness over Christmas

How to respond to homelessness over Christmas


A distressing sight over Christmas will be the growing army of rough sleepers in Australia’s largest cities. If you participated in PIF’s StreetSLEEP this year, you will know how difficult it is to sleep on the ground. No matter which way you turn you can’t get comfortable and at the Sydney StreetSLEEP I barely slept a wink.

And yet every week I see homeless people, their faces in repose as they lie next to bus stops and buildings, seemingly immune to the noise and movement around them. My daughter always asks me why we don’t give each one of them money and my responses aren’t good enough.

I think that many of us (myself included) often don’t know what to do when we see a homeless person. Should we give them money or ask if they want food? Is a smile and eye-contact enough? The scale of the problem is over-whelming and how can we stop for every one of them?

Here at PIF we are focused on long-term solutions to youth homelessness. With the industry’s help this year we raised $3.2 million and distributed $2.3 million to our charity partners.

Our goal is to significantly increase the supply of transition accommodation for young at-risk people. In the last two years that has resulted in an extra 32 bedrooms and in 2019 we hope to create another 50 bedrooms where our charity partners will provide wrap-around services such as counselling, education and employment. The goal by end 2021 is to have created 125 extra bedrooms across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

I can’t thank you enough for all your support this year. Whether you are a donor or participated in one of our fundraising events (the 2019 events calendar is here), or you volunteered or came up with an innovative way to fundraise – I want you to know that your support is crucial to our mission.

Seeking long-term solutions is, I believe, the correct response to homelessness. But, in the moment, individual acts of kindness carry enormous impact. It always warms me when I see a busy worker stop in the street to enquire with a homeless person what they can do, and then walk briskly to a sandwich shop to give them some food.

I was fortunate to overhear a Maureen Collins, our Head of Fundraising at PIF, talking to a donor last week about her personal response to homelessness. Maureen has the number 1800 152 152 in her phone under ‘homeless’ and when she encounters someone she thinks she can help she either gives them the number or sometimes calls on their behalf. The number is a government information line that links the caller to homelessness services in NSW. There are similar government lines in Victoria (1800 825 955) and in Queensland (1800 474 753).

Apart from this practical tip, Maureen also gave this advice: “I think first and foremost – if you can make the assessment that you are not at risk – have a conversation with them and ask about their circumstances, ask their name and recognise them as a person.”

A good Christmas experience for many rough sleepers may well be this acknowledgement from someone who looks them in the eye and asks how they are. I appreciate that this comes easier to some than others, but these small acts of kindness knit together a social fabric from which we all benefit.

On a bigger level, call me on 0405 766 434 to discuss how you can support PIF in 2019, because this time next year I want to know that those 50 bedrooms your industry created are occupied and delivering an amazing Christmas experience for 50 young people.

Merry Xmas.