Different perspectives on homelessness
Sarah Avery didn’t see herself as homeless. She wasn’t “sleeping rough”. But at 16 she had left her family home and was crashing at a succession of friends’ houses – all the while maintaining the appearance of normality, studying for her HSC on a private school scholarship.
Sarah spoke about her experience at the UTS Big Thinking Forum on homelessness. She was the student representative on the expert panel.
I didn’t put the word ‘homeless’ onto my situation until about three years later. People at my school would have had no idea – it wasn’t exactly a place where that was a normal experience.
Today, Sarah is in the fourth year of a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Communication double degree at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and an advocate for young people experiencing homelessness.
Her point is that there is no such thing as a “homeless person” - there are just people currently experiencing homelessness. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and experience homelessness for any number of reasons, including family breakdown, trauma, mental health issues and the impact of government policies.
There’s a misconception that people who experience homelessness are different – a stereotype of a particular kind of person who is homeless forever, when in reality for a lot of people it’s a transient state.
She says it is important that those experiencing homelessness are treated as people first and get the right kind of help for their particular situation.
For example, Sarah lived in a small rural town, where making a very public move into a refuge wasn’t an option that would have been acceptable to her.
As a 16-year-old, she presented a challenge as neither a child nor an adult in a system that seemed geared towards getting her to go home, when that wasn’t an option for her either.
Support, just like struggle, is unique to everybody.
The UTS Big Thinking Forum where Sarah spoke marked the anniversary of the clearing of the Martin Place Tent City in Sydney’s CBD.
UTS Law’s Dr Thalia Anthony also contributed an opinion piece about what we have learnt from the Tent City experience.
Read the full story about the Big Thinking Forum in the UTS Newsroom