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Home sweet home turns sour

  • 04 August 2022
Homelessness week marks a failure in our society. In recent years the failure has become a scandal. Once to have a home was seen as a right. Now it is seen as a privilege. The price of homes has risen enormously. Renting has also become more expensive as people compete for fewer houses. In rural areas to which many people have moved during the Covid Epidemic, local people are often priced out of the housing market. More people are forced to sleep in their cars and on the streets. At the same time, however, the houses left unoccupied are more than sufficient to provide a home for all who lack it.

There are many reasons why it is so hard to find a place in which to live. They include a change in attitude, encouraged by government policy, from seeing homes as shelter to seeing them as wealth. People take out heavy loans to buy houses, which in turn raises prices. At the same time governments that once took responsibility for housing people with little or no income have stopped building new houses and have even sold existing stock. When immigration resumes we can expect even greater pressure on shelter and on rental prices.

It is easy to view homelessness from a distance as only a failure of economic policy and of the political responsibility to deliver material goods. A home, however, is more than a house. It connotes connections that are central to humanity. Left without a home people are deprived of more than bricks and mortar. They are diminished in their humanity. This can be seen if we look at some of the associations of home.

A larger view of a home sees it first of all as a shelter. Whether a tent for nomads or a palace for kings it protects us from wind, rain and sun, from wild animals and from robbers. It is a source of security. Without this intermediary between ourselves and the world of the stranger we are left insecure and exposed.

A home also connects us to a place. For Indigenous Australians home is the particular area of land with its distinctive features to which they belong. For others a home defines the piece of earth on which it is built as our own and so connects us with the environment in which we live. It anchors us to place. Without it we are rootless, wanderers.