Stigma a significant barrier to leaving homelessness

Image/ artwork: Gemma Lee

A new report released by PIAC’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Service has highlighted the long-lasting detrimental impact that the stigma associated with homelessness can have on people’s ability to find long-term accommodation and resume a normal life.

The report, ‘They spit at you with their eyes’ – Experiences of homelessness in New South Wales, is by Melissa Wolfshoerndl, a member of PIAC’s consumer advisory committee on homelessness, StreetCare. It was based on interviews with six men and women with recent experience of homelessness.

Melissa’s research found that feelings of shame led some people to hide their homelessness in order to avoid judgement, leading to social isolation at a time when they most needed support,’ said Louis Schetzer, Senior Policy Officer at PIAC’s Homeless Persons Legal Service.

Some people found that they lost friends when they disclosed that they were homeless, others made an effort to stay away from people, fearing rejection.

One participant described hiding her homelessness from real estate agents out of fear she would be rejected for rental applications. While two others said that experiences of judgement and ill treatment had hampered their ability to find employment.

‘A recurring theme throughout the report is the way that stigma and negative self-perception combine to make the difficult task of finding stable accommodation and resuming a normal life even harder,’ said Louis Schetzer.

The report also found that negative self-perceptions of people experiencing homelessness put them at further risk of disadvantage by preventing them from accessing urgently-needed services and support. According to some of the participants in the research:

‘Society sees homeless people as dole bludgers, that they are lazy and they are the scum of the earth.

‘It’s bloody hard. It tears away that little bit of pride, self-doubt, you know, acceptance into society.’

‘Alarmingly, the impact of stigma continued to resonate long after people had found stable housing,’ said Louis Schetzer.

‘It is clear that providing emotional support and mental health services to overcome the negative impact of stigma are a vital part of helping people to leave homelessness.

You can read the report here.

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