Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hard questions on help and homelessness

ABC tv screened a documentary on homelessness on Thursday: The Oasis: Australia's Homeless Youth.

It tracked two years of the Oasis homeless refuge in Surry Hills, and made quite a hero of Paul Moulds, the bloke who runs it and cares for those most people have already written off as crooks, nohopers and beggars.

It takes a huge amount of guts and patience to spend so much time and energy caring for people who are down, maybe headed further down, and in some cases might not survive their youth. A lot of hopelessness with few rewards.

The second aspect of the narrative that caught my attention was the nature of the youths' problems. Although most people might say their situation is entirely of their own making, that is not really so. The plights mostly had their origin in family breakdowns, frequently due to either lack of parental capability, or dysfunctional blended families, or family violence. That the homeless one turns to drugs, thievery, or (often) a combination of both, may reflect somewhat on the youth, but is arguably more fairly attributable to a lack of support for someone who is too young to have the wherewithall to rise above a situation not entirely of their own making.

Which brings me to the third theme of interest in this issue. An audience discussion afterwards turned to that issue of person responsibility. Beyond what point do you mandate the circumstances of a homeless young person? For example, sequestering allowances, forcing cold turkies, locking them up? There is some argument that Paul Moulds' example of constant care and help can turn their lives around - and in a positive way. Conversely, too much force and they will rebel - even if it is not in their interests.

Obviously, there is no one answer that fits all. But the programme ably demonstrated an important place exists for those who provide these youths with the care and support that had been lacking in their lives.

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