This week is Homelessness Week, which is an important opportunity to recognise the hardship faced by so many Australians who are currently experiencing homelessness across the nation. This annual event raises awareness for one of our country’s most pressing social issues, homelessness.
This year centres on the theme ‘Housing Ends Homelessness’. It seems painfully obvious, but the simple truth is that the issue of homelessness cannot be solved without the creation of safe, affordable housing for those who cannot currently afford or access it. In a country like Australia, which boasts considerable wealth and ample opportunities (for some of us) but where the percentage growth rate of those experiencing homelessness outstrips that of population growth, it is clear that something needs to be done to assist those falling through the cracks.
This year’s theme is particularly relevant for us. Commercially, we act for a number of social housing providers, who work with the government at the state and federal level to deliver crucial social housing infrastructure to house our booming population.
In our pro bono practice, homelessness is one of our core areas of focus. We support individuals who are at-risk of or who are currently experiencing homelessness to navigate challenging and stressful legal issues, and we also support organisations such as Launch Housing and Society Melbourne who are working at the coalface in assisting people in vulnerable positions to avoid or exit the homelessness cycle. Hall & Wilcox aspires to undertake an average of at least 35 hours per lawyer each year towards providing pro bono legal services to our clients in the homelessness sector, and to clients in other areas of community need.
And yet, homelessness is not just about housing. Homelessness is symptomatic of a wide range of other issues, such as domestic violence, elder abuse, discrimination (particularly of those from minority groups, such as LGBTIQ+ identifying people, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people living with a disability), exploitation of workers and more.
Perhaps one of the most important things for us all to reflect on this week is that there is not one ‘type’ of person who ends up falling into homelessness. It can happen to anyone, at almost any time: after losing your job, after a relationship breakdown or after a bout of mental illness, for instance. For this reason, it is important for all of us to acknowledge the stigma that continues to follow those experiencing homelessness and to think about what we can do better in our businesses and as a community to do our part in providing support to those who need it.
Our client, Society Melbourne, speaking about the work they do with their café at Melbourne University.
Our firm is actively seeking to increase the number of organisations in the homelessness sector we act for. To discuss the possibility of obtaining pro bono legal services for your organisation, please contact us.