‘Like sitting in a dark room’ – Ballarat forum gives a voice to the homelessness experience


August 10, 2023

A forum held in Ballarat this week as part of Homelessness Week has helped shine a light on the daily uncertainty, fear and the sense of hopelessness faced by people without a home.

The ‘Where to Now: Responding to Rough Sleeping Post-Covid’ forum was hosted by the Council to Homeless Persons and Uniting Vic.Tas and included speakers such as Homes Victoria CEO Sherri Bruinhout, Ripon state MP Martha Haylett and homelessness policy expert Swinburne University Associate Professor David MacKenzie.

There was also a panel discussion featuring Uniting Vic.Tas Homelessness Advocacy Reference Committee with all the members having lived experience of homelessness in the Ballarat and Central Highlands region.

Markus Middling told the forum about the sense of desperation he felt as he tried to escape homelessness.

A member of the Pride in Place network which supports LGBTQIA+ people with housing and homelessness issues, told of washing his clothes in Lake Wendouree.

“(Being homeless) is like you’re sitting in a dark room, and you know where the light switch is, but you can’t get up to switch it on,” he explained.

“You need somebody to sit with you in the dark to give you the confidence to get up and switch that light on.”

Associate Professor MacKenzie, who has studied housing and homelessness policy including across the US and Europe, said there needed to be a change of approach to homelessness in Australia.

“There needs to be a rapid response to rehousing people (experiencing homelessness) and right now we’re not doing that well enough,” Professor MacKenzie said.

“As much as possible we need to be able to reconnect people with their families and with their own communities. Rather than just responding to crisis, we need to do as much as we can to prevent people becoming homeless.”

Leading into Homelessness Week, Uniting Vic.Tas Senior Manager Homelessness Adam Liversage said more people across Ballarat and the Central Highlands – from all walks of life – were now struggling to find a home, at risk of losing their home, or without a home.

“There are more people doing it tough, not knowing where they will shelter from one day to another or where they will get their next meal,” Mr Liversage said.

“Homelessness is not inevitable. With enough social and affordable homes and the right support, everyone in the community can be permanently housed.”

Homelessness Week continues until Sunday with Uniting Vic.Tas part of the Experiencing Homelessness Art Show and Exhibition at Trades Hall, 24 Camp Street, Ballarat, which showcases stories and artwork of people with lived experience of homelessness.

Learn more about our Housing and Homelessness Services.

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