Posted by: jkirkby8712 | February 18, 2011

Friday, 18th February 2011 – kicking around balls, and public housing tenants

Commenting on Australian Rules Football – well, with my football team seemingly out of the principal pre-season competition, following last Saturday night’s games, we have to look forward to the main season, beginning in just over a month.  Coach Brett Ratten, from this week’s Blues web site, had a few positive thoughts for the team and supporters alike.  This is what he had to say.

“On Saturday night [last], Etihad Stadium provided the backdrop for the opening round of the NAB Cup, in what doubled as a unique triple-header involving three of the AFL’s inner-city strongholds. From my perspective, it was tremendous to see more than 40,000 football people turn out in support. Though we did open up slowly in the first hit-out against Richmond, we came home strongly to record a comfortable 18-point win. Similarly, we started tardily in the night’s third contest, but found a way back into the contest, only to go down by seven points in the finish [to Collingwood].
 Without doubt, the slow starts cost us – and yet, there were good signs when we started to get our hands on the ball and really got our game going. A win and a loss over Richmond and Collingwood respectively means that we’ll now be participating in the NAB Challenge series, with the next match penciled in for the weekend of February 26/27 – and as NAB Challenge series matches are staged at regional centres around Australia, our players will turn out in either country Victoria or interstate venues in two weeks time.
Of course, the Carlton Football Club’s weekend activities weren’t confined to the NAB Cup fixtures alone, with Sunday’s Hyundai Blues Family Day attracting 5000 supporters to Visy Park. All senior players were in attendance for the taking of the official Team Photo, and they immersed themselves with the Family Day activities through the day”.

With the Blues having played in the last two years Finals series, but being beaten narrowly on both occasions in their first and only game, the Club aim in 2011 is the win their way through to at least a second finals appearance in September.  If they fail in that aim, it will probably mean the end of Ratten as Coach, so there is plenty of incentive for him, as much as anyone to talk things up big at the beginning of the season. As my son would say [yell] ‘go Blues’!!

Now, my employment is within the public housing sector, and while I am personally keen to see my period of employment in that job come to an end later on this year, it was nevertheless with some concern, that I read the following article which was written by a representative of one of Melbourne’s largest housing and homelessness services, and I reprint it here out of concern and interest for the future of the sector and its many beneficiaries.

The article demonstrates the many misconceptions that are generated throughout our modern society [whether it be in relation to public housing, refugees, Indigenous communities, etc] either through political persuasion, the power of biased journalism, or simply just pure ignorance  – I need say no more, the comments from Scoullar below spell it out rather clearly.

Tuesday, 15 February, 2011  By Daniel Scoullar Online Opinion


Recently, The Age’s front page carried a story titled “Crisis in Public Housing” detailing unacceptably long waits for people in need of public housing in Victoria. At the same time, the online version provoked a completely different reaction – Attacks on people living in public housing.

 The Age story was informed by access to internal Office of Housing data obtained via freedom of information. It found a maximum wait of nearly 20 years for general applicants with an average wait of 4 years; and over 10 years for highly vulnerable ‘priority’ applicants with an average wait of 1 year. For those of us who work with Victorians in housing crisis, these are not surprising figures. With only 65,000 public housing properties in Victoria, a low annual turnover in tenancies and over 41,000 households already waiting, it is no wonder waits are so long.

 When the article appeared online, public comments were opened for the standard 24 hour period. By 9am the flavour of the public responses was already clear. Public housing tenants were guilty of various offences including being both lazy and wealthy; having new cars and secret jobs; rejecting housing because it was in the wrong area; destroying their properties; running drug labs; and generally abusing a system that discriminated against hard working Australians who ‘do the right thing’.

 Asylum seekers and refugees were singled out for particular criticism and one correspondent suggested people in need of housing should travel to Darwin and ‘get a boat’ as a quick way into public housing.

 These comments revealed disturbing misperceptions about the public housing system and public housing tenants. A number of more balanced comments were submitted later in the day, many as a result of efforts by homelessness organisations to add some balance to the one-sided online debate. Nevertheless, when comments closed, there were still two hostile comments for every balanced or supportive one.

 Here are a few examples:

 …we have public housing used by people selling drugs…isn’t it time the rules were closely examined. (H.G.)

 I can’t stop wander why am I working… (J.W)

 Surely 10-18 years is ample time for someone to try and make an effort with their life and turn it around? … hire a few motivational coaches… (Mum of many)

 If people are not happy waiting for 18 years for a free house, perhaps they should stop relying on hand-outs, get a job and stand on their OWN two feet. (Investor Brad)

 … No sympathy for those bludging of others. Get a job, and do your bit for society. (JK)

Many of the statements were factually incorrect and showed a poor understanding of how the system works. They also demonstrated a great deal of prejudice and negative stereotyping against public housing tenants with the core idea being that the majority of public housing tenants are engaged in unethical or illegal activities.

 It is in fact a very small minority of tenants who do the wrong thing. If a majority of tenants trashed their properties or dealt drugs, the entire system would collapse quickly.

 The real problem in Victoria is our lack of public housing — not that it doesn’t work for people when made available.

 I’ve seen similar patterns repeated in articles highlighting other socially disadvantaged groups such as single mothers, refugees, people who are homeless, Indigenous Australians and the unemployed.

 While it is true that online forums rarely host well informed debates on public policy, these comments represent views held by large segments of the community. We also see them come out in the tabloid media, often in programs such as Australia’s highest rating ‘current affairs’ program, Today Tonight.

 It is worth looking more closely at why such hostility flourishes regarding, in this case, individuals and families who fall victim to housing crisis.

 Firstly, it is clear that a lot of people are doing it tough. Rents are rising, so are interest rates, and Melbourne’s housing remains amongst the least affordable in the world. There are lots of people who do work hard, pay their mortgages and ‘do the right thing’ but who are still barely keeping their head above water.

 Unfortunately their anger is misdirected against those with even less, but it would be wrong to dismiss them. Our affordable housing crisis is touching more and more people as it deepens. This is a legitimate cause for anger.

 On top of this, there remains a great deal of distrust, anger and what appears to be misplaced jealousy towards recipients of social services. This is despite consistently high levels of generosity towards victims of fires, floods and other natural disasters.

 Perhaps we are still stuck in the old thinking of the worthy and unworthy poor?

 In this frame of thinking a natural disaster victim is ‘like us’ and government support for them is an acknowledgement that the position of victim and supporter is a result of pure luck and the situations could be easily reversed.

 When it comes to people who are homeless or in public housing, there is a judgment being made that the person needing help is a victim of their own making. They are at fault due to personal flaws, criminal tendencies or bad decisions. In other words, they got what they deserve.

 There is no acknowledgement that the causes of homelessness or housing crisis are often uncontrollable events such as a violent partner, family breakdown, unemployment, poor health or even rising interest rates.

 Nor is there any empathy with people born into extreme poverty or who, in many cases, are suffering the effects of structural disadvantage compounded over many generations.

 Are these things any less a ‘natural disaster’ than a flood or fire? Are these victims any more to blame for their situations?

 If this is the filter through which the public views disadvantage in Australia then positive change is doomed to advance slowly. Governments, communities and social services themselves must become more active participants in social policy debates and advocates who can educate ignorance, challenge misperceptions and nurture greater empathy through understanding.

 Confronting and dispelling the myth of the undeserving poor is a battle that needs to be won.

About the author: Daniel Scoullar is Communications Manager for HomeGround Services, one of Melbourne’s largest housing and homelessness services. He has worked in local government, politics and the community and international development sectors



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