Opinion: Indigenous homelessness is not a ‘cultural choice’

The Cairns Post: Back before Munro Martin Park got a $10 million upgrade, Fort Knox-style fencing and an automated robotic lawnmower, it was the central meeting, sleeping and fighting spot for itinerants on a round-robin rotation of drunken despair.

Over the past 20 years we have had endless forums, studies, reports and promises all telling us much the same thing.

Nothing has changed, they have just shifted down the road.

Here we are in 2018 having the same conversation we had before the new millennium arrived in an extravagant display of dodgy fashion choices and optimism for the future.

These poor, wretched men and women are still living some of the worst lives imaginable due to generational neglect from society as a whole, their families and their own bad choices.

It is a never-ending cycle of hopelessness and once again our city leaders are steeling themselves to tackle the issue once and for all.

All this gasbagging is pointless without considerable and prudent spending on indigenous housing.

The damning results of a study into Australian homelessness released this week highlight the immense amount of work needed in regional areas like Cairns, Darwin and Townsville.

The Australian Homeless Monitor 2018 report singled out the aforementioned centres for their particularly high rate of “rough sleeping or public place dwelling”, largely attributable to deplorable conditions in severely crowded remote indigenous communities.

The study told us what we already know – people move from homelessness in remote indigenous communities into rough sleeping in urban centres.

It also referred to “circular mobility” where people from severely overcrowded communities move in with family and friends in regional centres, creating significant problems for overcrowded host households.

The 2016 Census revealed a 14 per cent overall rise in homelessness Australia-wide since 2011, soaring above the 9 per cent population increase over the same period.

What needs to be done is obvious, but nobody wants to put their hand in their pocket – and if they do, they want to waste half of taxpayers’ spending on bureaucracy.

The research, commissioned by Melbourne-based Launch Housing, spoke about a public and media perception that indigenous homelessness was a cultural choice or simply anti-social behaviour.

Taken in the context of the rigidities and organisation of Anglo-Australian society – and all the benefits they bring – then yes, it is the very antithesis of normal social behaviour.

But living on the brink of ruination, bodies and minds broken by drink and desperation, is not a cultural choice nor some lofty protest against the status quo.

Nor is alcohol by any means a “black problem”, it’s just that most white people are able to conduct their self-abuse under four walls and a roof.

These folk need somewhere to live.

The Federal Government has so far refused to fund any more remote indigenous housing in Queensland, with the critical issue not granted a single mention in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2018-19 Budget.

The State Government has stumped up money and pleaded for Turnbull’s mob to cough up – but it wants to stick by the same heinous accounting protocols that saw $1.126 billion being spent over a decade to build 1141 new homes.

That’s about $1 million a house.

Sure, bringing materials and know-how to the bush does cost more than the city, but the added expense in no way explains that disgraceful figure.

Governments need to step up on every front, because right now we look like heartless barbarians to the world outside Australia.

Enforce responsible service of alcohol laws.

Operate the “return to country” program properly.

Establish decent physical and mental health services, as well as detox facilities, in the communities that need them the most.

Most of all, give these people somewhere to live where they are not sleeping on top of 14 other people in a three-bedroom house.

It all costs money but it is a small price to pay to finally end the cycle.

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