Senate debates

Tuesday, 14 August 2012



7:48 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Homelessness is everyone's responsibility. It has been a major agenda item for Labor since we came to government in 2007. To one day 'end homelessness' we need to be working together: government, the not-for-profit sector like Youth and Family Focus, business and, importantly, everyone as members of the community. The first place we must start is with awareness. The theme of National Homeless Persons Week this year was 'homing in on the real issues of homelessness'.

Devonport based Youth and Family Focus organised the HELP film festival—HELP standing for homeless and everyday life perspective. The HELP film festival tasked young Tasmanians with making a short film about homelessness from their perspective. Last week, on the first day of National Homeless Persons Week, the 17 films were screened at the C-Max Cinemas in Devonport. The students used their creativity to highlight many of the issues that homeless people face, issues ranging over domestic violence and family violence, relationship breakdown, substance abuse, mental illness, financial hardship and youth unemployment and disengagement.

Wynyard High School won the competition with their emotional interview with a former homeless man, Sebastian, and Anglicare housing officer John. I applaud these students for their courage in approaching Anglicare for the interview. They asked the hard questions of Sebastian and John and got some very honest answers. The film uncovered some of the real issues of homelessness in Tasmania, particularly around public housing processes and policies. At the screening I was fortunate to have some time to speak to Sebastian, John and Sebastian's friend Gary. Sebastian told me he had been homeless for 20 years. Recently he was fortunate enough to find a 'home' in Burnie. I asked him how that felt to now have a roof over his head and somewhere to call home. He hesitated, then went on to tell me that it was good, but he was still getting used to it. He told me that after sleeping rough for 20 years he had become accustomed to sleeping lightly. When you sleep rough you must be very aware of your surroundings, he told me.

Sebastian told how he would jump at any noises that he heard; not sure of what was out there in the night. He said that he still did that, even though he was in a house and safe. He still slept as though he was out on the streets, jumping at every slight sound. He said it would probably take him some time to get used to the fact that he was 'sleeping safe'—if he ever could. I asked him if he had family. He has a twin brother and a six-year-old nephew. The beaming smile on his face when he told me about his nephew showed his pride in family, just like I have with mine. After his last pay, he had a little money left and spent it on a remote control car for his nephew. Sebastian then asked me if I would like to see a photo of his nephew. When I said yes he proudly showed me a photo on his mobile phone. His hands were shaking as he showed me. He apologised for this and told me he was nervous as he had never before met anyone as important as me. I was taken aback. I quickly told Sebastian that he was just as important in our society as anyone and, given his courage in sharing his story with students at a local high school for their entry in the HELP film festival, Sebastian demonstrated just how important he is.

The one thing that really struck me was that, although Sebastian had very little and for 20 years had no place to call home, whenever he spoke about help for the homeless he always referred to 'the other blokes out there'. It was never just about him; he was always thinking of other people who were homeless. He was not doing it for himself. He did not want any thanks; he did not want any glory. He was doing it for those people that were sleeping rough last Monday night—and for those people that are sleeping rough tonight. I asked Sebastian, 'Now that you have a home, what would you like to do?' He told me that he loved art, and he would love to paint with oils and canvas, something he had never been able to do when he had nowhere to store materials.

I also met Gary, a mate of Sebastian's, who is currently homeless, although Gary considers himself lucky as he has accommodation at a shelter in Burnie at the moment. Unfortunately, he does not know how long he will be able to stay. This is dependent on whether other people with greater needs come along. Gary was also referring to 'the other blokes out there'—a real show of solidarity that he shared with Sebastian. Last Monday night, Gary actually stayed at Sebastian's place. It was a way of Sebastian saying thanks to him for coming along to the film festival to share his story.

A key link between Sebastian and Gary was John from Anglicare. John has been assisting the homeless in north-west Tasmania for the past 18 years. He was clearly held in very high esteem by these men, and he told me of some problems he faces trying to assist people to find a home. To get a better understanding I have committed to do a shift with John in October this year. John, you have now got a commitment in the Hansard. I hope to get a better understanding of what John does, how he helps some of the most vulnerable people in our society and how government can improve the way it delivers services.

Everyone has the right to a safe and secure home. A home is the foundation on which a person builds their life. Without a stable home, people—no matter what their age—struggle to live healthily, stay in training or education, or find and keep jobs. That is not good for them, their families, their communities or the country. That is why this Labor government made homelessness a national priority in 2007. We have commissioned the report The road home: a national approach to reducing homelessness, which provided a comprehensive plan, and we have backed up that report with investment commitments totalling almost $5 billion in new funding since 2008. It is funding that follows from the research and seeks to provide support services and programs to assist people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

It is also funding that includes the establishment or expansion of a number of initiatives in Tasmania. Anglicare are one of the major partners in the delivery of these services. They manage a 30-bed youth facility in Launceston called Thyne House. It is the only one of its kind in the state and provides long-term accommodation for those aged 16 to 25. Thyne House is full and achieving good results for the residents, with all but two of the young people engaged in employment, education or training. Many of the activities, such as cooking classes in the industrial kitchen, are also available to other young people in the Launceston community. This integration makes people in the community feel a part of the activities and culture at Thyne House, which makes the residents feel more a part the community.

We need to do more, and the HELP film festival is a tremendous effort in building the awareness that is fundamental to doing more. The festival was hosted by Kayne Tremills of ABC3 fame, who gave a great speech highlighting his own struggles with youth homelessness just a few years ago. Kayne went over and above what was required of an MC, giving the audience an insight into a struggle faced by a now popular TV host. Thank you, Kayne. Thank you to the HELP team from Youth and Family Focus: Brett, Belle and Nadine. I know you put in many extra hours to help students produce their insightful films—it was worth it. And thank you to the students and teachers who worked tirelessly to produce the informative films.

There were 17 films, telling the stories of homelessness in communities right across Tasmania. Geeveston District High School, from the far south of the state, were the winners of the people's choice award. It was inspiring that they made the five-hour journey north to Devonport to the film screening to meet with the other entrants, share stories and make new friends. The Geeveston film included an interview with a student who had couch surfed for an extended period with school mates. The students told of the struggles for this young man—as he would not want to impose on friends but needed somewhere to crash each night—and of the struggles of his mates who wanted to help. Couch surfers must be recognised as homeless and services must be appropriately targeted.

The HELP film festival helped all who attended and participated to get a better understanding of homelessness in Tasmania. Hopefully it serves as some inspiration and motivation to all of us not only to consider those sleeping rough each night but to help out where we can. Everyone in this country needs a roof over their head, some people to keep them company and the opportunity to go to school or into training. These are basic things that all Australians should have.