Helping the Homeless

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The Social Justice Statement 2018-19, A Place to Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land, is most timely. In recent times, there has been a great deal of concern about the growing issue of homelessness in Tasmania.

Not only is there a shortage of housing in Tasmania, but rising rents have forced many working families out of their homes. CatholicCare workers tell me that people who come seeking help to find accommodation often have limited to no options as there are just not enough homes and certainly very few that are affordable. This is a most distressing situation. It seems extraordinary that here in Tasmania we cannot provide housing for those who seek it.

CatholicCare, through its agencies like Centacare Evolve Housing (CEH), are one of the leading organisations addressing the shortage of housing stock. In the past two years, 87 new dwellings have been built, with a further 106 homes at various stages of construction. CatholicCare has been active through its Housing Connect program working to support people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

The Catholic Church also has two services to provide emergency accommodation. Bethlehem House in North Hobart, operated by St Vincent de Paul Society, has been continuously functioning since 1972, providing accommodation for homeless men. The facility provides 12,500 bed nights and 30,000 meals each year. Annie Kenney, Young Women’s Emergency Accommodation Service is operated by CatholicCare, and has been providing this service since 2008 (it had been operated by a women’s collective from 1978 to 2007).  Housing Tasmania recently made improvements to the site to create a bigger facility and last year assisted some 147 young women in crisis situations. Unfortunately we have no similar services in the north of the state.

There are many Tasmanians who, as I am writing this piece, have nowhere to live. Housing, as we know, is essential to human flourishing. Without housing, individuals and families struggle to do the simple things.

In response to this crisis, I have formed a task force to examine ways that we might better serve the homeless in Tasmania. The task force has the title Homelessness Archdiocesan Response Taskforce or HART. I have asked it to look into concrete measures the Archdiocese of Hobart might undertake both in the short and long term to address this critical social problem.

In the coming weeks I will be asking every parish to look at what they could do to assist the homeless.  An essential part of the Christian life is service to others. Of course, a number of different groups have already developed a range of initiatives to try and address this current crisis. The first step would therefore be for both the Archdiocese and parishes to investigate what is already being done and to work in cooperation with these initiatives.

Secondly, once this work has been undertaken both the Archdiocese and individual parishes can try either to work in with existing initiatives in order to help strengthen these or, where crucial gaps exist, work to develop new initiatives.

CatholicCare staff working in this area of homelessness will be ready to assist any parish with advice and guidance. Of course, for parishes it is important that a proper process is followed in seeking to undertake any work in this area and appropriate administrative support will be provided by the Archdiocese.  

As Christ taught: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me.” (Mt 25:40) I invite all in our Catholic communities to embrace the call of the Australian bishops given in the Social Justice Statement and work with me to find ways to assist those currently experiencing homelessness in Tasmania.