At the end of last year my girlfriend and I were walking down one of the main drags of Montevideo, Uruguay. I smelt pot in the air, and as the crowd thickened so did the smoke. President of Uruguay José Mujica, affectionately known as ‘Pepe’, had just legalised the use of marijuana. He has also legalised same-sex marriage, dramatically increased renewable energy resources, and most inspiringly, shunned the lavish Suárez y Reyes Presidential Mansion and donated it to the homeless people of his country.
Contrastingly, frontline Government services for the homeless, and those at risk of homelessness, have been cut by about 40% in the ACT. According to St Vincent de Paul Society, Canberra experiences the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia. According to Homelessness Australia there are currently 1,758 experiencing homelessness in Canberra tonight, 500 of whom are children. And according to the five charities and frontline services I have spoken with over the past few weeks, homelessness in Canberra is increasing, and has been doing so for years.
In the Capital City of Australia there is no Government funding for homelessness services after business hours, and in the aftermath of Australia’s biggest stimulus package there exists not one immediate refuge dedicated to sheltering our most vulnerable citizens. In Australia, if you have no fixed address you are ineligible to receive benefits from Centrelink, and as Sue Jordan from St John’s Care says, ‘if you leave a person chronically homeless, getting them back into society is basically impossible. They lose their dignity and zest for life’. And in many cases, lose their life.
I believe that the collective social conscience of Canberran is greater than any other jurisdiction in Australia, and that has been demonstrated by a number of philanthropic donations made by Canberrans especially of the past few years. But if our Governments are going to allow this problem to fester, I suppose we, as a city, need to find ways to deal with it ourselves.
This is where Elvis comes into the picture. I was recently contacted by local performing artist and events organiser Rhiannon Salmon. It was an interesting conversation. Rhiannon told me that she’d like to organise an event as Elvis Week was soon approaching which partly coincided with Homeless Persons’ Week. Since then Rhiannon has almost singlehandedly, in conjunction with Canberra’s Treehouse bar, created the event ‘Elvis at Treehouse!’, to be held at Treehouse from 7pm – 11pm, Friday 29 August. All of the proceeds will be donated to the charity CanFaCS (Canberra Fathers and Children Services), an organisation which has recently had to shed a large portion of its staff due to cuts in the federal and ACT budgets.
The dedication and compassion for one’s fellow human being is palpable when you meet the staff of CanFaCS, and working with Rhiannon, just another member of this wonderful city like me or you, has also been life affirming. So, if you want to do something about homelessness and enjoy Elvis, swing dancing or rockabilly – this is where you should be on Friday the 29th!
I hope that this article helps Canberra’s most needy in some way, and I hope that we as city, whose humanity runs deep, can embrace and grow our culture of giving to those who need us to give the most. Homelessness can happen to anyone.
Please support this wonderful and creative community initiative. You can join the Facebook event and buy tickets for $20 via the links provided below.