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Why I am proud to be associated with Havelock Housing as a patron

Hugh Mackay AO, social researcher and best selling author

by Hugh Mackay
Social psychologist, researcher and bestselling author

Simply because, in a truly civilised society, lifting people out of poverty, bringing the marginalised in from the margins, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless must rank among our very highest priorities. These people are part of us; casualties of the kind of society we have created – casualties, in particular, of the rampant individualism and competitive materialism that have gradually tightened their grip on our culture for the past fifty years.

On census night 2016, more than one million dwellings in Australia stood empty: that’s 11 percent of our total housing stock. Empty. Not empty all the time, of course: they might be holiday houses, investment properties waiting for tenants (or for capital gains), or properties for sale awaiting a buyer; but, on any one night, one million of them are empty.

While we digest that, let’s also ponder this: Australians squander $25 billion on gambling losses every year – the highest per-capita rate of gambling losses in the world. So there’s not simply a lot of spare housing lying around; there’s a lot of spare cash, too.

Given those two rather startling facts, we must ask ourselves how, in a country like Australia – and, in particular, a city like Canberra – can we reconcile that kind of information with our social consciences? How have we allowed so many people to slip into homelessness and still not addressed it?

Finland has effectively eradicated homelessness by the blindingly simple strategy of giving homeless people homes. Once they are securely housed, they are in a better position to address the problems that led to their homelessness in the first place.

Why can’t we do that?

With house prices set to fall, this may be an opportune moment to purchase more dwellings for social housing. With governments in search of projects to stimulate the economy, post-COVID-19, a ramping-up of social housing construction would seem to be an obvious strategy.

Meanwhile, the work being done by Havelock Housing – not just in supplying homes for the homeless, but also in finding imaginative ways to help them integrate with the community and get ‘back on their feet’ – deserves our wholehearted support.