Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Death of Melbourne homeless person shows gap between rhetoric and action

Here's the unedited version of my letter in today's Age in response to yesterday's editorial and coverage of the violent death of a Melbourne homeless man last weekend:

The failure to treat with dignity and respect the city crime scene of last weekend’s fatal stabbing of Mr Wayne Perry sounds a profoundly sad note that should also be heard as an urgent call to action to respond to the needs of all homeless people.

It shames and should appal us all that Mr Perry’s fellow homeless people should have their trauma sustained and made worse by the reminders of a senseless and violent act to which they themselves remain especially vulnerable.

That services to prevent homelessness and support homeless people remain under a funding cloud when almost 7000 people are already turned away from existing services shows the startling gap between rhetoric on the issue and any real commitment to solutions.

In addition to the need for increased and secure funding by Federal and State governments, the City of Melbourne should refocus its efforts on helping the homeless, rather than cultivating the city as a venue for boutique tourist experiences.

I also caution against the suggestion in your editorial of the extent to which homelessness is a “choice”. The privations and challenges of homeless people and those at risk of it should cause us to reflect deeply on how free people in such circumstances really are to make and give effect to decisions in their own best interests.

Nor is homelessness something to which the word “deter” should apply - as if the homeless are to be deterred from the commission of a crime. The crime is that society places too many people in such a position of terrible and, in Mr Perry’s case, fatal vulnerability.