How to escape the ‘couch potato’ of homelessness in the inner-city
It’s the last thing you’d want to be doing when you’re homeless.
But, for the thousands of homeless Australians who have nowhere else to turn, the choice of how to survive on the streets is the ultimate choice.
“We are living in a society where there are very few options,” says Dr Samir Ghanem, the CEO of the charity Shelter.
“The choices are endless.”
So what you need to do is get yourself into a position of dignity.
That’s where the Couch Potato comes in.
“It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, dating back to the 1950s when the concept first hit the streets.”
I think the Couch potato is a pretty good metaphor for the way in which people have been conditioned in this country to think that people are basically living off the government’s dime,” says Samir.
It started with an emergency room visit by the local health department, where they were told to treat anyone with a temperature of less than 10 degrees Celsius.”
When we told them that, they just looked at us like we were crazy,” says Ms Ghanet.”
It was really shocking to hear that they were actually telling us that our basic needs weren’t being met.
“That’s when the idea started to be popularised.”
The idea of ‘couples homelessness’ was popularised by a man named Harry Peebles, who lived in a caravan in the Northern Territory and worked as a taxi driver.
“What I was doing was actually working as a car-hailing driver and I would always get in the back of my cab and I’d be driving up to the remote communities and they’d be waiting for a cab and they would just give me the number, I’d get the number and I got to go out there,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.
The first Couch Potato was created in Melbourne in 1976 and has now been adopted around the country.”
That really inspired me and it started a chain of events.”
The first Couch Potato was created in Melbourne in 1976 and has now been adopted around the country.
In the inner cities, the idea has spread, with the first CouchPotato campsite in Melbourne set up in 1989.
It’s estimated there are over 15,000 people living in homelessness in Australia, but only about 1,000 have been placed in housing.
“Homelessness is a big issue in Australia,” says Sheltering Victoria chief executive Sarah O’Connor.
“A lot of our young people are going through that process and a lot of them will struggle to get into work, a lot will struggle with school and they will struggle if they go out in the community to look for work.”
But for a lot who are in the vulnerable part of the spectrum, there are some great resources out there.
“Ms O’Leary says one of the main reasons for this is because people don’t feel comfortable talking about their situation, so it can be difficult to find support.”
For the older people who are really struggling, the CouchPotos have helped to break the ice and get people talking,” she says.”
They’re providing a safe place to talk and get help.
“It’s been really effective in helping them see that they are not alone.”
It started in Melbourne and spread around the world in the 1980s, but by the late 1990s it was getting attention in the United States.
“There were very few shelters in the US for people who were homeless,” says Shelter’s Samir Ganem.
“And for a very long time it was a pretty lonely place, and the idea that there was a place that was providing support was pretty exciting.”
A decade ago, Shelter launched a national campaign called ‘CouchPotato’, in which the organisation gave out free hot meals to homeless people and they started handing out free clothes to homeless families.
It was only in 2010 that the concept took off across Australia and in 2014, Shelter became the first organisation to set up a CouchPotatoes camp.
The CouchPotets have also set up three centres in the Melbourne CBD.
In Victoria, Shelter is holding its first Couch Potatoes camp in Melbourne’s CBD on September 15, where the aim is to create a safe environment for people experiencing homelessness.
“To make sure people feel safe and they feel supported, to make sure they can get through the day, to ensure that they have the support and know that they’re not going to be forgotten,” says shelter chief executive Samir and Samir’s wife, Lili.
“As soon as we start, we’re going to open up a new shelter for them to come in and to go into.”
Topics:housing-industry,people,relief-and-aid-and‑poverty,community-and-(anthropology)relief,housing,social-development,australiaFirst posted September 20,