Archives for category: Homelessness

If we stop and take a look at ourselves it is not a pretty sight. We are in the midst of an unprecedented knowledge boom yet our world does not reflect this. Few parts of it have peace and real freedom yet we know that war only provides horror and intense suffering and sorrow and solves nothing. In the end the result only comes through peace talks. In a world in which we used the knowledge we have those talks would be at the beginning, not the end.

In countries not at war there is still unnecessary suffering and deprivation. We still haven’t learned to share and accept that having too much doesn’t bring happiness. Having too little inevitably brings misery and hardship. Over Xmas our Australian Prime Minister was photographed helping to serve lunch to some of our impoverished citizens. They already had too many helpers so that it’s only purpose was to rub in the fact that his many tax-deductible properties were keeping poor people in that situation. But that’s another story.

If we go back to the world scene, what should we do? Firstly I assume that there is no question that democracy is better than dictatorship. Free and fair elections for all should be the free and accepted norm for every country in the future. Secondly we need to ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to succeed according to their abilities, including physical ones. Thirdly, the leaders we choose should have these goals, not self fulfilment, self-gratification and enrichment which tend to be their current goals.

So where do we start? New knowledge seems to be the catalyst which is triggering the desire for a better world, and in particular the necessity for those in leadership roles and others to keep their knowledge updated. This would lead to better informed decision making. We can no longer expect one person to have the necessary qualifications to lead a country. We should look to electing a leadership team with a wide variety of skills and up-to-date knowledge. The days when someone with out dated knowledge of law can be treasurer, for example, should be long gone.

We need to move to an election criteria in which my final suggestion would be the first. We can no longer have a situation in which those who stand for election tell us, and partially listen to us, at election time then forget about us. We need to elect representatives who will represent us, not just themselves or their parties. We need to elect people who will represent us and have a well-established mechanism for doing so, with frequent opportunities to listen to their electorate, not just tell us after the event.

If our leaders are not prepared to keep up to date with their knowledge then they have no part in the 21st century world. Leaders who help to serve lunch to our poorest at Xmas need to be replaced by leaders who sit down and listen to all citizens so that they are aware of their needs, aspirations and ideas, including the poor. This is 21st century leadership. It needs to be a team with up-to-date appropriate knowledge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we speed towards 2017, which will mean that we are well ensconced in the 21st century, we still face a great deal of uncertainty and still have no concept of ourselves as guardians of this planet. Technology has helped in that people across the world, either close by or on the opposite side, can usually contact each other within seconds, but we still behave as individuals, with little concept of our joint role as preservers of humanity itself. In fact most people still think in terms of their own patch of land, be it the building they live in, the town/city and the country  their lives are clustered around, with minimum global concept beyond those limits.

The problems the world (this planet we have named earth) seems to have has little or no place in our, or our leaders, lives. Our thoughts seem to be focussed around our own little patch, a relic of mankind’s history, with no attempt to look beyond this. I once taught in a private girls school, which was favoured by at least one prime minister for the education of his daughter. One of the staff reckoned the school motto should be ‘Me’ because that seemed to be the students’ focus! That could easily apply to so many people in today’s world, including leaders.

We are all familiar with the industrial revolution and how it changed the lives of so many people. I suspect that this century will be recognised for the knowledge revolution which is likely to change the lives of far more people across the globe, both for better or worse. The latter effect will be entirely our responsibility as holders of this knowledge and responsible for how we use it.

There seems to be an acceptance of democracy as the most acceptable way of ruling, with greater personal freedom not only in choice of lifestyle but in expression of ideas and knowledge. It is not yet an idea anyone has perfected, with most countries having an unacceptable level of poverty and homelessness. Public demonstrations against the ruling party is a healthy part of this, unless they go on for too long (an indication that the people are not being listened to) or if violence is involved suggesting another agenda.

We enter the new year with one major player in world affairs having a leader who constantly  changes his mind and another who faces huge poverty levels (they don’t publish the figures) with an additional 6 million of his people facing job losses in major industries. Meanwhile his government is building weapons structures which threaten major trade routes. Hardly a positive picture.

Meanwhile, on a lesser scale, countries such as Australia have their own struggle with the knowledge boom. The Prime Minister has publicly denounced the advice of the chief scientist on climate change, an essential part of the world’s survival. Neither the Prime Minister, or his senior cabinet, seem to have any expertise in this area. In fields where they do have knowledge it was obtained in the last century and is largely out of date, but unrecognised as such. This is why it is so important to employ qualified advisors and take their advice.

We need to change our approach to governance, and sharing our planet, if we are to survive.

 

The Australian Parliament has just risen for the long summer holiday (not an expression they use!). It tends to lead us to a point where we look backwards and forwards, not only in Australia but in terms of the situation worldwide.

I think that all those who live in a so-called democracy would feel that it is the best form of governance over a large number of people, either individual groups of people from one parcel of land calling itself a nation, or groups of nations together calling themselves another name such as the European Union, with a looser alliance. The latter may or may not be a long-term stable relationship as we are seeing through Brexit. The other alternative is a binding together under a harsher regime such as a dictatorship.

Those of us who live under a loosely termed democracy feel we have the better deal but I suspect that we are being conned to a greater or lesser extent. My impression is that quite a lot of people in Britain feel that Brexit was a wrong decision, even though the population appeared to vote for it. By this I mean people voted according to the information they were given, largely as reported in the press. So did the press have an unrecognised power?

The recent American election also had its faults given that the candidate most voters wanted is not the one they have. This has created a quite disturbing situation given that this new powerful man in the world often makes conflicting statements so no-one really knows what he thinks, or, more importantly, what he will do.

The Australian parliament is nowhere near as important as this but what we see is the damage that can be done in a country which claims to be democratic and is only marginally in conflict with some of its neighbours. Two areas of governance in the last week have particularly troubled me. Any boss who requires their workers to work until midnight day after day would be regarded as a law-breaker since there is a huge danger in making unfair and unreliable laws in that state of tiredness. Not only that, unacceptable deals were done on the basis of ‘I’ll vote for your legislation if you vote for mine’ for legislation they wouldn’t otherwise have voted for. This is not democracy in which elected members are supposed to represent their constituencies and vote according to the latter’s wishes. An even more blatant violation of this is when members are given ‘a conscience vote’ on issues. Their conscience, or beliefs, have nothing to do with what they were elected for. Meanwhile whilst this horse trading is going on, large groups in the population have their needs unmet. Those who don’t fit into the accepted male/female categories, the poor and the needy, in other words the majority of the population, have their needs unmet and live as second class citizens. We call this democracy. I don’t think it is full democracy.

I suspect what we really need in the months ahead is for the citizens of the world to get together and define what real democracy is and insist that our elected leaders follow this new role for themselves. I don’t think it will even happen in my lifetime unfortunately.

This week I listened to a discussion about a new report on the adequacy of the pension in Australia. It is a very complex problem which is probably why it is a rarely tackled. The last attempt I am aware of was by a university researcher who ended up having to make so many assumptions the end result wasn’t really meaningful. This time the authors set themselves plenty of time and enlisted the help of a number of organisations involved with the elderly, such as the Council for the Ageing (COTA). The main value of the exercise to me was the inclusion of someone with many years of experience with ageing groups and is himself celebrating his 85th year this year. He was a member  of a three person panel speaking about the issue. It was a refreshing change to see a panel not just discussing an age related  topic but with one member actively, personally involved. They were not just studying the ageing but involved with us. It took away the weakness of so many discussions on ageing which talk about us, not with us.

So what emerged from the study? As expected it is a particularly complex issue but some problems cropped up frequently, particularly the topic of good dental health. Not having the money to pay for dental treatment leads to older people having to mash their food as their teeth are too painful for them to chew, or are none existent due to the expense of dentures. To me, this should be a separate issue. We have a free health system in Australia so I can’t see why this can’t be extended to dental health. The other issue which was not raised was the health costs of not taking action. If people are unable to eat properly for whatever reason, including inadequate money for food, then their general health will suffer, a situation which the health system will have to cover, particularly if they end up in the hospital system.

Another major issue was that of the family home not being included in a person’s assets. This problem arises when someone has lived in the family home for decades and its value has risen greatly. The person may not want to leave because, for example, it holds many memories. They also may feel that this is a legacy to leave their children who may be looking forward to it. The problem arises when maintenance costs rise and the older person is obliged to pay out of their pension. They may be left to live in poverty in a hugely valuable home.

These are among the many complex issues the study group looked at. There is obviously much discussion on the issue ahead. At least it is good to know that future talks will be held with older people. not just about us.

I liked the suggestion that the issue of the value of the pension be set by an independent body. The politicians’ response that the country couldn’t afford it was met by ‘but that’s how your salary’s are set”!

Those are just some of our problems in Australia.  What about those countries which don’t have any pension?

 

It is about 10 years now since I first became interested in ageing yet I still come across areas I haven’t yet investigated. Recently I was invited to join a group of people investigating homelessness in the city where I live. It was the first time I had considered the plight of older people for whom everything has collapsed.

I had previously heard a talk by someone from a large city in Australia who was describing his involvement in building a group of units for homeless older people. The units were fairly small but big enough to satisfy the needs of those living there and were extremely sensitive to the needs of their new inhabitants. For example, each unit had a balcony attached to it. The balconies overlooked a walkway which enabled the residents to choose to sit outside and chat to people out for a walk (and get some beneficial fresh air), or stay inside if they wanted to be alone. One lady commented that it was the first time in her life she had a key to her own place. She was thrilled! It occurred to me that what she was actually saying was  that this was the first time in her life that she, and her possessions, were safe. A sobering reminder of the constant danger the homeless are faced with.

The group’s research of course will involve those who don’t have that security. It must be a frightening situation for anyone but for older people, aware of their frailty and their vulnerability to illness or violence, it must be even more difficult. The problem is that homeless people tend to hide themselves away from public view for safety so that the only way we can be aware of them is through the wonderful people who go looking for them. These people are among the angels of this world. Those they look for are most likely to be dirty and smelly, out of necessity, yet these angels look beyond that and offer them help. I assume that this is a problem which exists throughout the world, with the size of the problem depending very much on the number of people who go looking for them and are enabled to offer them help. This help currently cannot always be in the form of shelter, food and necessary medications, due to financial restrictions.

So what is this new group I recently joined hoping to do about it? Firstly we need to know how big the problem is and we need to contact those with knowledge in this field to get this information. The next step is to make people living in our city  aware of the problem. I suspect that many, hopefully most, will be prepared to lobby their politicians to provide the money to address the problem. With an election a few months away this is an ideal time to be highlighting the problem.

Will a solution to this problem through provision of low cost shelter and access to health professionals be the answer to the problem and nothing more? I suspect not. It is easy to dismiss the homeless as no hopers but I suspect that this is not always the case. I suspect that we will find that many of them will be in this situation through no fault of their own, bowed down by numerous disasters in their lives. We could end up as the beneficiaries of solving the problem if those assisted are enabled to lead useful and rewarding lives. At least those who are assisted will have the opportunity to live better lives. Well worth researching the problem and solving it.

 

I have recently joined a group which is interested in this topic so I am on a sharp learning curve. Being older has its restrictions but not having a place you can call home must make the problems even harder.

I now realise that the topic ‘Homeless’ actually covers two different groups of people. One group have no specific place which they can label ‘home’ but can usually find a place of shelter, the other group are what we normally regard as homeless and literally sleep wherever they can find some shelter from the elements, such as under bridges. This latter group is of real concern, particularly when we mix it with the ageing process.

The sad part is that what I suspect is a very small minority actually prefer this way of life. Some years ago I saw a documentary about one such young man with a respectable job who suddenly got tired of what he felt was a controlling life and took to the roads. His family never knew where he was but every few months he would turn up at the family home, clean himself up, eat well for a few days, and then set off again, living off whatever he could find beside the road. We have to respect people who find fitting in with modern life oppressive but our concern must be with those who don’t have a place to live, not out of choice.

The homeless group includes all ages, including young people who live by surfing couches at friends homes but a homeless life is particularly hard for vulnerable older people who, among other problems, are more at risk of health complications. In the next few weeks I also hope to interview someone who has specialised in the beginning of this problem, recognising impending homelessness and trying to prevent it.

Our winter nights here are particularly cold, with below freezing temperatures the norm. Some of the homeless are likely to find shelter in accommodation provided usually by charities who specialise in this work. If there is enough of this the problem is partially solved, although I also hope to interview the providers and find out what the situation is in my own rather wealthy city. My main concern is with those who can’t find even this type of accommodation and have to sleep in their cars, if they have one, or rough on the streets, particularly if children are involved.

If a city or town has managed to solve the problem for its own residents then another problem arises. The homeless in surrounding areas hear that if they go to that particular centre they will find accommodation of some sort and it becomes a bottomless problem. I’m not sure what the answer to this is.

I look forward to being part of this group as all the members either work in this field or are keen to try to find a solution to the problem. Some years ago one charitable organisation in another city, Melbourne, had provided small housing units for the elderly homeless. I will never forget one resident saying it was the first time in her life she had had a key to her own place. In other words a place where she and her belongings were safe. If only we could make this a world-wide goal.

Come with me on my journey.