LAST week there was another appalling, anonymous attack on a vital inner-city homelessness service, with fake Hutt St Centre expansion letters sent to neighbours.
It is heartening to see though that, by and large, most local residents and businesses aren’t being been swayed by these scare campaigns, lies and misinformation.
People sleeping rough have always gravitated to our inner cities and regional centres for safety and for access to community services. The Hutt St Centre has a proud history in the city’s southeastern corner.
Most of us will rightly feel uncertain about approaching someone sleeping rough, let alone feel we know how to help. Just a few days living rough will leave anyone feeling distressed, looking shabby, sometimes smelly and maybe exhibiting erratic behaviour. This is exactly why we need services like the Hutt St Centre where people can gather safely, together with assertive outreach services that can connect with people on our streets and link them to appropriate support.
This includes addressing mental health, drug and alcohol dependency or chronic health related issues, as well help with housing. Now, despite being only a portion of all homeless people, the recent Adelaide Zero Project street audit shows the number of people sleeping rough is actually increasing. This is hardly surprising given National Shelter’s most recent Rental Affordability Index which shows it’s nigh on impossible for anyone on a low income to find affordable rentals in Adelaide today.
While the source of the latest hoax letter is unknown it’s worth asking who would benefit if the Hutt St Centre was forced to move? And, is there a legitimate concern that must be addressed? Experience in other cities shows NIMBYism and development interests will see rough sleepers as a blight and thus a threat to potential returns. And, despite the fact that city centres are a necessary home to longstanding support services, many want to argue that homelessness is an issue for which they have no responsibility and that rough sleepers simply belong “somewhere else”.
This latest incident reminds us we all need to refresh our thinking about rough sleepers and the services needed to help them, if for no other reason than recognising that many of us are only a few pay packets and personal crisis away from becoming homeless ourselves.
Of course we must work to ensure our neighbourhoods are safe. If people are acting illegally, homeless or not, our police do need to respond appropriately. But we also have to ensure that people faced with difficult life circumstances and sleeping rough get access to the help they need.