Friday, December 30, 2005

Homeless Help

With Christmas over for another year, and a new year just around the corner, it had me thinking about the plight of homeless people. Australia sure has it's fair share of homeless, and the majority of the country would go about it's daily grind without even noticing we have them. I mean, the majority of homeless people are not visable here in many States and cities. In my city, many of them are, mainly because of the climate.
AS I toddle to and from work, I often notice and worry about homeless people, particularly in the winter as darkness is approaching and the cold is coming in. I often have to walk past them as i cut through the park opposite the courts, a favorable place for local Aborigines to sleep.Yes, it does get cold here in Winter, although not for too long thankfully. In 2004 there was roughly 900 homeless people in Sth Australia according to the census. I have no figures for any of our other States, i assume the figures would be more in other States. These people are especially vulnerable when it comes to accessing their legal rights. As one homeless person put it: "If you don't know your rights, you got none." In other words, no home no justice. Although i must say, the Aborirignal people here, do have excellent access to legal help, it is the white and homeless without the help.
On a day-to-day basis, homeless people will have more pressing needs. Finding accommodation is difficult for them, as is getting food, getting money, caring for family or simply organising a wash, a change of clothes or a decent sleep. These needs become more important than their legal needs. Services report that when homeless people finally do contact a legal service (if at all), the issue has already reached crisis point. The eviction is imminent; their benefits have been cut off; the court case is tomorrow. Once people are entrenched in homelessness, they become more visible to law-enforcement agencies, crime and fines become more prominent issues, they often become victims of crime and they have difficulty complying with social security requirements because of their chaotic lives and lack of a permanent address.
Without access to legal and advocacy services, human rights are effectively denied.
To ensure that homeless people have these basic human rights, the University of Adelaide Law School has set up a new legal service, the Adelaide Legal Outreach Service (ALOS).
The service is operated by students from the university's Law School under the supervision of lawyers and lecturers. The Law Society and the Law Foundation are also providing support to this worthwhile initiative.
The students take responsibility for the cases and run the clinic themselves. The supervisors stay in the background to offer support if required and to monitor the standard of the work done for the clients. Some of the matters the students deal with include debts and bankruptcy, family law, freedom of information and changing bail conditions.
It can be confronting for many students at first, but for them to find that homeless people could be resourceful, decent and hopeful had been a very positive lesson in humanity and the social environment in which the law worked.
The service can assist with bail, child support, debt, criminal injuries compensation, fines, Centrelink matters, guardianship/mental health, housing/housing appeals, negligence and other civil claims.
Besides giving legal advice, staff of the centre can draft letters, research claims, contact government departments, assist with completion of forms and assist with negotiating disputes. Importantly, the centre can help refer homeless people to other services which can provide more detailed and complex representation and advice.
Everyone is entitled to legal assistance, i think this is a brilliant idea and can only hope my State follows on with something similar.

till next time, Michelle.


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