A wide range of speakers discussed why there is no ‘quick fix’ for women facing homelessness at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum.
The theme of this year’s Forum was ‘Building Resilience – Surviving and Thriving’. As the speakers shared their reflections on the topic with the sold-out crowd at the Queensland Multicultural Centre, it quickly became clear that ‘surviving and thriving’ will mean something different for every individual woman facing the threat of homelessness.
The Member for Redlands, Kim Richards MP — appearing at the event on behalf of the Hon Mick de Brenni, Queensland Minister for the Department of Housing and Public Works — noted that “every situation is different, every circumstance is different”, and that homelessness can happen to virtually any woman at any time.
“I’ve seen it in my own family,” she said.
“My sister lives up in Cairns. She moved up there because that’s where her husband worked at the time. It was a very happy marriage, or what she thought was a very happy marriage, for 10 years. She was a stay-at-home mum, she had given up her career for his career. All of a sudden it was over.
“She didn’t have the skills she needed to get back into the workforce. She didn’t have the means to be economically independent. Finding a house up in Cairns… it was complex, and it was difficult, and without family support at the time, it would have been [even more] difficult.
“My sister was one of the lucky ones because she had a family that could help her. A lot of people don’t have that. They don’t have access to a family that can support them in that way to get back into their home, and to get back on to the pathway that helps them take their future forward.”
Financial counsellor Mark Bates explained that when people were going through a financial crisis, “it’s often because of something that’s beyond their control”.
“It might be a job loss or something like that. It can be quite scary, because I often find with the clients I’ve worked with that very small things can land people in a very, very difficult space.
“I had a gentleman come to see me who’d run his own multi-million dollar international business. The business had failed, he had started drinking and his wife had left him. He was not able to open his own mail anymore. He needed someone to be there to open his bills with him. What that tells us is that things can change very dramatically, even when we think we’re in a fantastic position, so you should always show respect and humility.”
Dr Ruth Knight, a Senior Research Fellow at QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, said organisations needed to innovate to be able to meet the varying needs of people at risk.
“There are a myriad of issues we need to address,” she said.
“We can’t just give people a house and expect to solve homelessness. We can’t just provide mental health services and expect to solve mental illness. We have to take a ‘systems view’ to our community; we have to look at the ways that we can be innovative within our organisations; we have to get much better at evaluating and reporting our impact; and we need to create better partnerships with the funders of our services — not just government, but social investors and philanthropists.
“All of that is critical to whether we’re going to get better or we’re going to get worse. We’re all in this. We’re all responsible, not just government.”
Kim Richards emphasised the need for a “more personalised and tailored approach” to dealing with homelessness.
“From a government point of view, resilience is about having the right programs, but it’s also about having the right people,” she said.
“I know we can’t do it on our own. I don’t think any one entity can do it on their own. It’s about walking the journey together, and that is critical to breaking the cycle of homelessness.”