The Breakdown of the Family Unit and Homelessness

In our Twenty-first Century, the family unit is not what it used to be. Nowadays, both parents usually work, so as to pay the mortgage and make ends meet from week to week with the basic necessities of life. Because of the external pressures in our society, mainly paying off a mortgage, paying high rentals, coping with the increasing cost of living etc., many families are at risk of becoming dysfunctional. The rate of homelessness is on the rise and our Government has now instigated an action plan via their White Paper, to attempt to halve the homeless population by the year 2020.

Brendan O’Connor, Minister for Housing and Homelessness, is in the process of putting this plan into place, and asking for all States to come on board, in order to facilitate the reduction of homeless citizens. Mr. O’Connor’s goals are highly commendable, and with the correct procedures put in place, the desired outcome of halving our homeless population by 2020 is hopefully achievable. People who are considered homeless are citizens who do not have safe and adequate housing, who may be in circumstances which threaten their safety or security, and people who do not have security of tenure, which does not allow them any legal right to be able to occupy their homes. There are various categories which homeless people may fit into and these include; improvised dwellings; supported accommodation, persons staying in other households; boarding houses; other temporary lodgings and persons residing in severely overcrowded dwellings.

There are many reasons why people become homeless. In many cases the situation of youth homelessness results from family breakdowns. Ongoing conflict and tensions arising at home may be the trigger for young people to either leave of their own accord, or being put out of the parental home. A common form of youth homelessness is referred to as “couch surfing”. Relationship breakdowns and family conflicts are often cited as the main instigators of youth homelessness.

Mental illness is sometimes another contributing factor for people of no fixed address. The mentally ill are no longer supervised by a health care worker, and are in many instances left to their own devices, and solely responsible for their medications. A patient can sign themselves out of hospital or an institution, regardless of whether they are fit to leave hospital, or whether they have a responsible, competent adult to assist them with their personal care and to provide accommodation. A very high percentage of people living rough or in a shelter, are suffering from a range of mental health illnesses, namely schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder, just to name a few. People suffering from post traumatic stress disorders have usually received some sort of psychological trauma in their lives. The symptoms of this disorder are varied, the most common being the inability to sleep, anger management, and hyper-vigilance. The areas in the brain which may be altered in post traumatic stress disorder patients are the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. The role of the hippocampus is associated with the ability to place memories in the correct context of time and space; it is the consolidation of information from short and long term memory and special navigation. The amygdala is responsible for processing memory, the detection of threat and the conditioned and unconditioned fear response, which is carried out as a result of a threat. It plays a pivotal role in triggering in an individual, a state of fear and anxiety.

Gambling addiction also contributes to the rate of homelessness, because of the loss of financial stability that may include having to sell property, personal possessions or vacate a rented home. With the availability of so many gambling venues, the accessibility to them is an ongoing concern for families of gamblers and gamblers themselves, who cannot control their addiction.

Other factors at play in our increasing homelessness crisis include the barriers facing refugees, disabled people, unemployment, lack of support, blacklisting to prevent rental of properties, poverty and of course being evicted from home when it becomes impossible to meet the rent or the mortgage repayments. Domestic violence is a contributing factor to the number of homeless women and children who are escaping violent relationships, in the hope of locating a safe shelter, in which to stay.

Substance and drug abuse also contributes to homelessness. This re-occurring, potentially destructive lifestyle, may require the sale of possessions to enable an expensive drug habit to be maintained as long as possible, and forces people onto the streets. Statistics on homelessness via a November 2012 Media Release, published by The Australian Bureau of Statistics, were: 105,237 homeless people on the night of 9 August 2011. This figure equates to 5% of our population. On Census night 2011, the rate of homeless was highest in the Northern Territory which recorded 731 people per 10,000 persons, as opposed to the lowest figure in Tasmania, being 32 people per 10,000 persons.

The Government have various safety nets in the system for all citizens needing shelter and accommodation. Mission Australia and the Salvation Army have been instrumental in locating shelters across the country for our most vulnerable members of society. Separate men’s and women’s shelters are also available. Unfortunately, there are not enough to accommodate all homeless citizens, and many are forced to “couch surf”, or sleep “rough” by finding a park bench, disused barn or any structure in which to sleep, for the night. Homelessness is a looming problem for all of society, because so many differing factors can contribute to why a person becomes homeless. It is not simply a matter of family breakdown, in which young people are evicted or choose to leave their parental home, it may include mental illness or a combination of the factors listed above, which contribute to this ever increasing problem. Brendan O’Connor, now has a plan to halve our homelessness population by the year 2020. Hopefully, the Government and all States will be working together to help bring this goal to fruition. Therefore, we have seven years in which to make this a reality; hopefully this target does not prove to be too ambitious to achieve, not only for our society as a whole, but more importantly, for the sake of all homeless persons who find themselves in this position, often for reasons which, they may or may not, have been able to control.

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