Attitudes to poverty in Australia range from two extremes

CEO Social Justice Blog

Anti-poverty Week has been and gone again during October. Hopefully the week raised awareness of the significant number of people in our community who don’t have sufficient income to meet daily needs.

Attitudes to poverty in Australia range from two extremes:

  • the first is for those who believe that the poor are victims of rampant capitalism with the poor becoming poorer so the rich can enjoy more wealth;
  • at the other extreme there are those who believe that individuals and communities which experience poverty do so because of their own inertia and poor attitudes to work.

Fortunately today most Australians appear to agree with Samaritans that we should do more to ensure all people, no matter what background, have access to an adequate safety net to ensure a life of dignity and every opportunity to participate fully in community life including employment and housing.

Sometimes the problem seems immense but we can all do something to help. Just look at the number of people who assist Samaritans in helping the homeless:

  • Our 120 Emergency Relief volunteers support approximately 50 families each month who are experiencing homelessness;
  • Also in Newcastle, Samaritans offers a ‘Foyer’ model of accommodation for homeless young people who are undertaking vocational education. It’s hard to escape homelessness if you don’t have a job and the Samaritans Foyer helps the young person to set and achieve vocational goals. A group of 12 volunteer mentors meet with the students each fortnight to share their wisdom and knowledge, to listen kindly to the young person as they struggle to get ahead and encourage them in their education and career development;
  • One of the major causes of homelessness is domestic violence and Samaritans has recently taken on the management of the Women’s Refuge in Taree. The agency also manages a number of transition houses in the area where mothers and their children can begin to rebuild their lives after their traumatic experiences. These are essential services as we have often in the past come across situations where mother and children have had to return to a violent home because they cannot find or afford anywhere else to live.
    The services in Taree receive ongoing support from the parishes of Taree & Foster /Tuncurry, who provide donations of clothing, food, household items and toiletries;
  • In September 2015, Samaritans celebrated the 20th anniversary of Friendship House, a small unfunded half way house service for men leaving prison. The service is staffed by volunteers who visit the house daily, spend time with the men as the make the difficult move back to community living;
  • And finally, each year on Christmas Day, Samaritans hosts approximately 1000 people for a very special Christmas Lunch. Guests include rough sleepers, people living in cars, many living in very substandard boarding houses, and many who are just plain lonely. The day is funded from donations and sponsorships and some 300 volunteers help out. The brief period of fellowship they share together is a wonderful experience for all who attend. All children and adults receive a gift as we seek to ensure that the joy of Christmas reaches the most marginalised in our community.

These unpaid acts of compassion make a huge difference in building social cohesion across our communities. I’ve also found that people who respond to hardship with acts of compassion have a greater understanding of calls for social justice which we hear each year during Anti-Poverty Week.