How the face of homelessness is changing

Homelessness isn't always this obvious. Picture: Getty
Homelessness isn't always this obvious. Picture: Getty

THE face of homelessness is changing, according to a Perth homeless service.

The Shopfront has been operating in Maylands since 2002 but is planning to move to Bentley by Easter next year.

It began helping about 15 homeless people a day but demand forced it to move to its current premises down the road in 2004.

Today it sees more than 65 people per day and helps more than 25,000 people each year who are homeless, struggling with addiction or mental health issues or are in financial crisis.

The Shopfront director Daman Walsh said the number of people sleeping rough had not changed a great deal but there were more “invisible” people sleeping in cars or caravans or “couch surfing”.

Dr Terry Wilson, Archdiocesan Vicar for Social Outreach, and The Shopfront director Damian Walsh.

“You know if you asked 20 people to identify a homeless person, if they saw someone with a sleeping bag or sleeping inside their doorway, then homelessness is obvious,” Mr Walsh said.

“But people wandering around the streets who have stored their bedding in their car or at a friend’s place, then I doubt they’d be recognised as homeless.

“These are the ‘invisible’ transient homeless people we are seeing more and more at The Shopfront.

“Whilst the majority of our visitors are people who are homeless, the majority of new people we’ve seen this year so far-are people who are struggling financially.

“Every story is different of course – some are struggling due to a loss of employment, some are from New Zealand or are refugees and they receive absolutely zero income support from the government.”

The Shopfront is run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, which has spent about $2 million on buying the Bentley site and new buildings.

It is the focus of this year’s Archbishop’s Christmas Appeal for LifeLink, which hopes to raise at least $650,000.

Homelessness isn’t always this obvious. Picture: Getty

LifeLink incorporates Catholic Church agencies which help more than 34,000 families and individuals each year.

The appeal launches on Sunday, after Pope Francis declared November 17 as World Day of the Poor three years ago.

Perth Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe held a special service last week with more than 150 priests and appeal representatives before the launch.

“Pope Francis speaks of the necessity (of) reaching out and providing hope and comfort to people in need – the poor, the abused, the lonely, the sick, the hungry and the homeless, not just on this one day of the year, but every day,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“Each and every person assisted by our LifeLink agencies has their own unique story to tell.

“The reasons for their need are, in most instances, private and very personal. It is not necessary for us to know the circumstances behind every person’s struggle.

“What is and shall always remain crucial is that when they do reach out to us, we respond immediately with open arms.”

To donate to LifeLink, go to www.lifelink.com.au.

Bill is back on his feet.

Getting back on your feet after a downward spiral

Bill is one of the many people who have used The Shopfront. He said his spiral downwards began in 1997.

I owned a business, was married to a wonderful woman and we had two young children. I didn’t know it, but I’d been battling depression and anxiety for ages and it was getting worse.

In such a short period of lime, I lost everything – my business, my wife, my family. Brought up by my grandparents, who I loved a great deal, my conditioned worsened in 2002 when my grandmother passed away.

I spent the next 10 years fighting every day just to find the will to live. With no home of my own, I couch-surfed from one friend’s place to the next. It was awful.

I ended up living on the streets of Perth for more than two years, not really caring if I lived or died.

While on the streets, I’d heard about The Shopfront. I started visiting with other friends I knew.

The Shopfront has been fantastic – providing me a meal when I need it or groceries when I have no money.

They have helped with referrals and advice. All the people here are so nice. It’s like a home.

I’m not sure how or why, but one day I thought to myself ‘I have to get living again’. A social worker found me temporary accommodation and I was prescribed new medication for my depression and anxiety.

Today, I have my own unit I live in and take care of myself. I like to paint, which has helped release some of the dark feelings I had inside me.

When I see people on the streets, I tell them about The Shopfront. I want them to know that they are not alone and there are good people out there who are there for them.

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