Share warmth this winter

Winter For the past few days, people in the southern states have shivered their way to work.

This foretaste of winter causes most of us to grumble. The days are short, and the snooze button gets a workout as it becomes harder to leave the confines of a warm doona.

With morning temperatures dropping to below five degrees, beanies and gloves have been dusted off for the short dash from the train or car to the warmth of the office.

As commuters rush to escape the cold, many of the city’s homeless are also starting their day. It’s hard to imagine getting through the night as bitter wind whips through buildings; concrete turns as cold as ice and rain threatens to soak you to your skin.

Often hidden beneath blankets and bags of worldly belongings, the people we pass on our way to work are sadly familiar. ‘The lady with the brown dog’; ‘The man with no shoes’; ‘The woman wrapped in a doona’ – among colleagues in our office, all are recognisable, depending on which route we take to work.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics state that on any one night in Australia, more than 100 000 people are homeless.

In Victoria, 22,789 are considered homeless. According to Melbourne City Council’s Street Count, more than 140 people regularly sleep on the streets of Melbourne in ‘improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out’.

Figures for Tasmania show that homelessness rates have increased by 32.9 per cent since 2006. In 2014, 1579 were considered homeless, with 156 sleeping rough on the streets.

While these numbers might be shocking, those we pass on the way to work are much more than just a statistic. They were once someone’s newborn baby, maybe now they are a parent or sibling, perhaps someone’s best friend.

Our politicians have led us into a narrative of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. The recent announcement of a top federal policeman to head up a task force to stamp out ‘welfare fraud’ is being hailed as a necessary measure against those rorting the system. Imagine if the money spent on cracking down on welfare cheats was used to revive an ailing system?

As we reported in Crosslight in May, emergency services are stretched to the limit. Agencies that offer some respite to those on the margins of society have had funding cut even further in the latest federal budget. Now, more than ever, such organisations must rely on the generosity of individuals to ensure they meet the needs of those seeking help.

Proceeds from the Share winter appeal will be used to enable UnitingCare agencies to continue to help those we pass by each morning.

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