Images from the hidden world of homelessness

Alex Ford

AN exhibition of photos from some of Sale’s homeless and at-risk young people is an eye-opening look at a hidden world.

The display, part of Homelessness Prevention Week, will be at Gippsland Centre this week, and shows a view of the town from a completely different perspective.

About 20 participants, aged between 16 and 25, were asked by Uniting to take photos of their experiences, and for many people the results are surprising.

Photos include a close-up of a hidden power point in Raymond St, used to charge a phone, and a fenced-off public toilet, demonstrating how environments constantly change.

One triptych shows a bike, a phone, and the Uniting door — ways one young man can get around, stay in touch and find help.

Uniting practice leader Mandy McParland said it was hoped the photos would raise awareness of a “hidden” issue in Wellington.

“We had 413 individuals come through our doors last year, and we were only open two days a week — 99 of those were children, it’s massive,” she said.

“Our transitional houses are always full, and there’s not really much affordable housing around Wellington.

“Not all of the caravan parks will take on homeless people, so our options are very limited, and I think that because we’re so remote, being able to see where homeless people are staying can be (difficult).”

Couch-surfing and insecure housing for young people was particularly hard, she added.

“We have 13 transitional houses in Sale, two of which are dedicated to youth, and the youth housing issue is rising,” she said.

“For youth in particular, hotels and caravan parks are not an option — they need to be somewhere safe where they can be supported.”

The photos surprised her with the creativity of the young people involved, she said.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien officially launched the exhibition, and noted it demonstrated the reality of homelessness in Gippsland.

“I think I for one, and probably many of us here, don’t fully appreciate the challenge the community faces,” he said.

“It’s quite stark and effective to look at the pictures and recognise the locations where people in our own community are having to live because they’ve got nowhere else to go; it’s a reminder that homelessness isn’t just rough sleepers.”

The Red Knights, a motorcycle group made up of current and former firefighters, also attended, with a huge donation of household items and warm winter clothes.

Red Knight Teresa Roberts said the group had a proud history of helping the community.

“For years now we’ve been collecting socks for homeless people in Melbourne, but we didn’t realise there was a homeless issue here in our local community, so as soon as we heard about it we thought we’d get on board if there was something we could do,” she said.

“There’s socks, beanies, jackets, and if we can help out in future years, we will.”

Ms McParland said it was encouraging to see the response, and hoped the exhibition would grow in the future.

“We’d like to make it grow across Gippsland, and get all the homelessness services on board — we have quite a good homelessness network throughout Gippsland, and Ethink this has been really successful in bringing awareness,” she said.

“Hopefully next year it can grow and become a travelling exhibition.”

Welfare body, the Council of Homeless Persons, is encouraging people to call on political leaders to take action as part of the ‘Everybody’s Home’ campaign by signing the petition to end homelessness.

Everybody’s Home is a national campaign urging leaders to fix the broken housing system which underlies the homelessness epidemic.

The photos, with the stories attached, are on display until Sunday, August 12.