“We’re going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I’m hell-bent on making it work.”   Elon Musk

Immersion into Homelessness — Sleeping Rough Part Three — Actions speak louder than words.

I got home around 11am, my daughter in law Rach, my granddaughter Marley and Rach’s Nan were there, I gave Rach and her Nan the very abridged version of the night’s events.

 

“Guys I’ve gotta go to bed, I’ll see you all later” I said my goodbyes and headed to my bedroom.

 

I hit the shower, whilst in there my thoughts drifted towards my Dad, I seemed to have been shaking my head a lot over the last 28 hours, one more time wouldn’t hurt. Shit, what must he have gone through I thought.

 

I couldn’t help him at the time, I was only a young fella, now is my opportunity to help others, other people’s fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters etc.

I went to bed, my head hit the pillow, now it was my turn to get hit by a tranquilliser dart, ohh what was that? Norm / dart — goodnight Norm “zzzzzz”.

 

I was awakened by Lesley when she came home from work, I took her through my experiences, I must say she has been awesomely supportive of what I am doing with Beddown. It wasn’t a late night for me I think it would have been between 9 -10pm when we went to bed, after experiencing an involuntary trip sensation as I was falling asleep (I hate them, they are referred to as a hypnic jerk), I was out, it only seemed like it was a few seconds later and it was Saturday.

 

My feet! Lesley asked if i could literally take my feet off and leave them outside, it’s true they smelt that bad for a few days later, an unfortunate side effect from all that walking, come to think of it I haven’t seen my running shoes since either, where are they Lesley?

 

In the days since, as well as being dazed for a while, the best way to explain it is, it’s like being in a jet-lagged like state, my thoughts turned to, so what’s next?

 

Onwards and Upwards:

Here you will now find some of my thoughts and ideas, all of which are outlined below and following my recent experiences on what should happen next. They are solely my opinions and hopefully it will stimulate a much larger conversation. I have separated my thoughts and ideas into possible short, medium, and long-term implementations.There are of course complexities around different peoples needs, but ultimately no one should be subjected to an existence like sleeping rough. So here goes!

 

Short-term:

The reason for my immersion was to experience the issue of sleeping rough firsthand and let the experience inform and further validate the need for services like Beddown. My experience did validate and cement the need to do something different, Beddown is different and as Elon put above, I’m hell bent on making it work. Providing a safe, secure and comfortable environment for the homeless to sleep in my mind is a no-brainer and is my action. Head here for more information on Beddown. https://bit.ly/2TQhI9S

But here are some other ideas for consideration;

 

Council & Government:

1. Councils all over the country, please open up access to electrical sockets for device charging, the extra cost for this would be negligible and more toilets with 24/7 access please! Also, the water fountain situation, they are just not designed well at all to refill water bottles, I’ll leave that one with you.

 

2. Personnel who work in community engagement programs across Local, State and Territory Governments should experience life on the street and also go through immersion themselves. From this you will all be better informed on both where to spend budgets and what programs should be implemented, and the speed and urgency of implementation. Go do this and go do it soon.

 

3. I believe in speed especially when dealing with people’s lives, if Council and Local State & Territory Governments collaborated and hit the streets at night consistently over a period of 2 to 3 weeks along with service providers, every night, meet everyone who are sleeping rough, understand their issues, situation and move them into the appropriate stream of assistance, with focus and commitment. I believe amazing outcomes and results could be achieved very quickly.

 

4. Urban furniture design — Benches and seating — When we were walking around looking for benches to sleep on before settling on Queens Gardens, many areas we came across looked deliberately designed to deter anyone from sleeping on them. Benches that someone could lie on would often have an armrest in the middle so no one could physically lie horizontally on them, other seating areas we came across had metal risers on the edges, so very uncomfortable. If more of the hammock areas like in Southbank were adopted wider, this would be great for people during the day and a comfortable alternative for those who are sleeping rough at night. (Caveat here — If Council and Government are not going to address the issue of rough sleeping in item 2 they can at least make the Urban Furniture more comfortable for everyone)

 

5. Bureaucracy — cut the red tape and let innovation happen, please! It’s an inhibiter not an enabler. From my current personal experiences, I am going through very painful red tape issues at the moment. Both Councils and Governments need to embrace, collaborate and work closely with service providers on innovative solutions to help address issues, trying to lose people in systems, this just isn’t good for anybody! Everyone talks about Red-tape reduction, please make it happen.

 

6. Health, I am not really sure on the statistics on the impacts of rough sleeping on a person’s health when taking away the issues of sleep deprivation, mental health and substance abuse as a result of being on the street. I am talking about the physical health-related issues through sleeping on concrete, benches and the likes, and the environmental impacts of weather etc. There will be a cost of this, all of this. Offsetting the health costs against improving the quality of life for the vulnerable should also be modelled in. I know from my personal experience that my body reacted to the conditions quickly (not in a good way), and fortunately for me this was not over a sustained period of time. I am not sure how people cope on a daily basis anticipating each day ahead of them.

 

Business and Industry:

There are leaders from business and Industry who annually take part in the CEO Sleepout organised by Vinnies. This is a great initiative as it raises awareness and funding to help deliver programs to the homeless. Again, here, leaders from business and Industry should experience the issue first hand, these experiences and insights I believe would drive leaders to make a much larger impact in the local communities they operate in. I am not suggesting 100 CEO’S hit the street in one go, 3–4 CEO’s could go out nightly over a period of time, a round table discussion could then be facilitated to talk about their experiences and then on to the what’s next! If anyone from business and Industry would be interested in an immersion please let me know.

 

General Public:

Also, I have an idea for a National approach for anyone to get involved and get sponsorship from friends, family and work colleagues and to experience sleeping rough without having to sleep on the streets, this to would raise awareness and funding for homelessness programs. It does need a bit more thought, but everyone should have the opportunity to support homelessness, this would allow anyone in Australia to do just that once a year. Anyone interested in collaborating on making this happen, please reach out and contact me.

 

Storage:

The one thing that pulled on my heartstrings was watching many people often the elderly carrying or dragging their life with them in bags and suitcases. It was bad enough walking around for one night with a backpack, and we shared the carrying around. As well as being limiting it is also very cumbersome for people to move around with their belongings. There are a number of things which could be easily implemented here. One opportunity is to get local businesses to get on board as potential “drop points” during the day. People are scared to leave their belongings in case Council clear it or someone else takes their belongings. I know organisations such as 3rd Space will allow people to store their belongings during the day whilst they are there. I believe lockers have also been discussed for some time and the pro’s and cons are being assessed. This could also spurn an opportunity for another service to be added or a new one developed.

 

Telecommunications:

A mobile phone is the only way for many who are homeless to connect to and with the outside world. Organisations such as Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to name a few should offer the vulnerable free minutes and messaging every month. Minutes and messaging cost these guys next to nothing on the infrastructure they have all now built. Also, many of these organisations will have an abundance of obsolete or non-current handsets, just hand them out guys and really help people connect.

Medium term:

 

Affordable housing:

Affordable housing is a hot topic of conversation on the whole issue of homelessness and not just for those who sleep rough. A lot of the discussions are around building affordable housing, when I look at this, I think yes, I understand we need to build something which is affordable, but then I look around Brisbane and I am sure there are similar situations around Australia and the amount of vacant properties on the market for rental. There are more than enough properties in existence to help address the issue at scale. Government, Federal, State and Local should look to implement a model which allows landlords of current properties to lease their properties to them, this would guarantee a rental income for a defined period to the landlord, with also a make good component built in. This could work for units, apartments and housing. Government could heavily subsidise this for the vulnerable and the subsidy could be on a sliding scale as the quality of life of the vulnerable improves over time, the subsidy would decrease. It seems so simple to me: Homes, apartments, units that are empty + vulnerable and homeless people = No one is homeless. Then when affordable housing becomes available people are transitioned over.A two phased approach.

 

Wrapping around this would be programs for support services such as education & training, rehabilitation services and budgeting etc. to ensure sustainability.

 

 

Foster Program:

This one is a little out of the box but if managed and implemented properly it could make a massive difference to those who are vulnerable. How many of us around Australia have a bedroom or two which is left empty at night? There will be a lot of bedrooms that are free right! Imagine a program which places someone either with a family etc. where they could stay for a sustained period whilst they can get back on track. People could be appropriately matched based on a number of different levels with each other, proper checks in place etc. It’s not a tall leap to help someone for a while. This could be subsidised by Governments. But having a place where someone could go into a welcoming environment, food, shelter, beds would make a massive difference to their life. The Fosterer would be able to be compensated for taking someone in. Something similar could also be introduced for someone who would like get into a particular career and matching with potential employers. A Secure home and training towards secure employment would be a massive boost to self esteem, confidence and helping people back on their feet.

 

Safety Net Programs:

More programs need to be implemented that catch people before they get to a life event which changes everything for them and they find themselves in a vulnerable state. Programs that allow people to jump-out of a life situation such as a potential relationship breakdown, abusive relationships or financial distress in their life before it gets too bad and catches them before they become homeless situation is imperative.

 

A National Approach:

I am a great believer in collaboration, each State and Territory seems to handle the issue of homelessness differently in regard to programs / funding etc, I think a National Task Force which pools expertise together would be great to tackle the issue, this could be made up from Government, Industry, Charitable organisations and advocates for those who are homeless and the homeless themselves. Best practices could be adopted Nationally and scaled to make the biggest differences. I just don’t see this currently, I am happy to be proved wrong on this of course. A Google search seems to pull up limited results for white papers etc. Action needs to move beyond research, and someone in power needs to put the stake in the ground and just start doing, iteration can occur along the way, we just need to start doing.

Long term:

This one is perhaps a bit controversial, but hey, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs as they say. There are many projects all over Australia which involve construction, residential, commercial and industrial. If there was a Social Impact levy introduced as a small % of each project, which could be imposed across the board, the funding raised could go into program and project streams such as:

 

1. Housing

2. Education & training

3. Rehabilitation services

4. Safety net programs

 

I believe over the course of 5 years, this extra additional funding could make a massive impact over time. I know there is a program headed up by the Big Issue called Homes for Homes, however this would be on a larger scale.

 

No one has actually cottoned on that eradicating homelessness could make us a leader in this field and we could use these learnings to help other Countries around the world eradicate the issue of homelessness on scale.

 

I guess for me my Dad was homeless in the 70’s and passed away when I was 11, that was in the UK, which has an equally big problem, but here we are in 2019. What has really changed since then i have to ask myself?

 

To finish up:

I have always maintained in 2019 when we can talk to speakers and say “Hey Google”:

And speakers interact with us to provide information and they can now even order Ubers or Pizza’s on demand for us. Then there are cars that are now able to drive themselves, that in a first world country such as Australia, yet we have this issue of homelessness!

 

So, for me, my main priority is working towards getting as many of our homeless people across Australia into a safe, secure, comfortable environment to have a great night’s sleep with Beddown.

 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article with the exception of Beddown everything else in this article is made up of my personal opinions and ideas, if anybody would like to discuss anything highlighted here in more detail my ears are open, alternatively if you would like to take anything outlined and further develop it, be my guest, anything that truly makes this country even better by taking more people from a vulnerable state and improving their lives is fine with me.

 

Alternatively, if you disagree with anything outlined that’s fine too, all I would ask is for you think what can you do to make the issue better?

 

I will say there are many amazing organisations out there doing fantastic things, all are heroes in my mind.

 

“I think it is possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary.” — Elon Musk

 

Together we can all make an extraordinary thing happen! But it needs to be together and ultimately actions speak louder than words.

Norm

 


 

In Australia over 8,000 vulnerable people sleep rough every night, this means sleeping on the pavement, on benches, under bridges and anywhere else that is accessible.

 

Beddown hopes to help our vulnerable by providing a safe, secure and comfortable place to sleep and a bed to sleep in, we do this by activating and repurposing under-utilised spaces in to pop-up accommodation.

 

“Everyone deserves a bed to sleep in.”

 

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