Ask First, Shoot Later: Homelessness, Media & Privacy

Privacy is hard to come by when you are homeless. With no where to go, you’re on show to people walking past you all the time. Its not always safe to go somewhere more hidden. But lately it’s the not-so-smart phone photographers who are causing complaints, alongside other media outlets. 

People experiencing homelessness are among the least empowered people in our community. Stigmatised and vilified, they are  easy fodder for sensational media outlets and blamed for factors outside their control.  It's important to hear alternative voices.

Many people who are homeless really do want to tell their story, and are prepared to sacrifice privacy to raise awareness of the bigger picture.

The do worry though, that a focus on individual detail can risk misdirecting us to only look at the person, and not at the systemic drivers of poverty and disadvantage. 

Respect and consent should be the foundations for fair media use, especially by those trying to help out on homelessness. We can all point to some really positive examples, but there are also some really bad examples you probably won’t hear about, where the damage has already been done.

It’s important to be aware of the risks of putting the limelight on highly vulnerable people. How would they cope with a backlash or extra attention?

For example, this week one homeless man found his photo and location used by a major newspaper in an article referring to “homeless ice addicts”, despite clearly refusing to be in the photo at the time. They had already taken his photo while he was sleeping. He told me he had since been abused, so much so that he now made a sign saying “I am not an ice addict”.

Care also needs to be taken because so many people who are homeless have experienced deep personal trauma that is very painful to discuss.

Consider  these questions:

  1. has genuine consent been given?
  2. is the person well equipped to make that decision at the time that they are being asked to do so? (ie could they be substance affected or otherwise not able to fully understand the implications of the decision they are being asked to make, potential backlash, both now and in the future?)
  3. have you explained fully how and why any material is being used, and for how long, and how they can contact you if they change their mind? Do they understand how social media works? 
  4. have you kept unnecessary identifying information out of the story including not showing faces, revealing locations or names, or has this option been offered?
  5. how important are names, faces and street locations to the overall message? Can the same outcome be achieved without compromising privacy?
  6. When requesting information and photos, has the request been framed in such a way that strengthens an individual’s opportunity to simply decline without explanation?

When it comes to members of the public, there are some very bad behaviours. “Nobody asks first,” said one man who is homeless on the streets of Melbourne. He’s not begging and lives a quiet life. He’s a talented artist and musician.

"People change when they look through a lens.  They forget manners.  I'm not an exhibit.  I'm a real person" he told me.

Many people I’ve spoken with have also complained that they don’t feel in a position to say no, especially when the request is accompanied by the offer of food or a blanket. Often times the “request” comes as the photo is actually being taken.

Sometimes  people will sit by them perhaps with the intention of providing company and conversation. But this almost always involves explaining their homelessness. 

“They say they want to learn. But I’m not here to educate. And my life story triggers bad memories. It’s not stuff I want to share, but it feels like I owe everyone an explanation.  Maybe I do.  I don't know any more,” this confused and weary homeless man tells me. He doesn't want his name or face shown.

The worst of all behaviour is when people get in the way taking selfies with an unconscious homeless person when our street outreach teams are performing CPR on the pavement. Hard to imagine, but it happens.

Melanie Raymond
Chairman, Youth Projects
16 August 2015 

The Hidden Hunger in our food rich city

We’ve been overwhelmed  by the generosity of the Melbourne community who have come forward with food and supplies during this bitterly cold winter. As a result we’ve been able to meet the growing needs of clients who are living on our streets, who are cold, hungry and unwell.

Around eighty per cent of the clients attending the Youth Projects primary health clinic frequently go hungry, unable to access the basic requirement of three meals a day. In both cities and in the suburbs, food security has emerged as an increasing indicator of poverty.

And a disturbing finding from a new study by the City of Melbourne shows that the hunger problem also now extends to a broader group of people including those who are housed, in both public housing and in the private rental market such as students and the elderly. In fact, up to 7,500 people are facing food shortage in a food rich city and in a country of abundance.

But it is people experiencing homelessness who have the worst diets and health of anyone in our community, suffering much higher rates chronic disease than the rest of the public.

Dependency on food vouchers, soup vans, food scraps and hand outs eventually takes its toll on health. Many report that the recycled, donated food hand outs offer little variety and often comprise meat pies and stale pastries Food security exists when people have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle. Lack of any choice and control in what you eat is hard to fathom for most of us who make food choices daily.

Food insecurity in Australia is likely to be over five per cent of the general population, and much higher among groups at risk such as those in remote areas, indigenous people, homeless people, and those on low or insecure incomes.

These vulnerable groups are more likely to consume greater amounts of ‘energy dense' foods and insufficient servings of essential vegetables and grains. High fat meals such as fast-food are often perceived as being more affordable, more filling and more easily available in disadvantaged areas. 

When people have little money, food choices are the first to feel the pinch. This is because struggling individuals and families know they can't avoid paying rent or power bills. For people living on the streets, their options are even more limited.

Poor diet places increased costs on our health budget downstream and is better dealt with early. New innovative solutions are needed to empower low income households and people who are homeless to achieve good health for their long term benefit.

At Youth Projects our sessions teaching life skills such as cooking, budgeting, shopping and food hygiene have been popular. We hope to scale up these programs to empower and break long term dependency on the issue of food and nutrition. Combined with mental health counselling, access to training and skills. we’re supporting the transition to a healthier, more stable lifestyle.

But for now, community gardens and cooking programs alone won't be enough due to the scale of the hunger problem. Poverty will remain the root cause due to rising costs of living especially rent, lack of jobs and the failure of government benefits to keep pace. Fortunately, our work in job skills and placement also serve to help people move from poverty to a new and better life. 

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Half of all people facing homelessness in Australia are aged under 25. With the right support, when and where it’s needed, we’re helping people get their lives back on track. Free health care, youth training, skills and job support, mental health and drug counselling. It’s all the help in one place, so people don’t feel lost and alone. And are not invisible any more.

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National Reconciliation Week 27 May to 3 June 2015


Youth Projects acknowledges the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures; and to elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

Are jobs people ready?

A lot of time is spent trying to make people “job ready.” In my view, we could also make jobs more people ready

Many unemployed struggle to meet the very uniform benchmarks of a highly competitive job market. Early school leavers, people with disabilities and people who are homeless find job search, employers and workplaces foreign and, in fact, brutal, in many cases.

Why do we expect such people to fit neatly into the job market? And why do we expect them to compete on an even footing with other job seekers who, by comparison, have had more advantages in life?

Our new venture in the heart of Melbourne, Good Coffee Good 2 Go, puts all the help in on place, working across silos and joining our specialist teams into one effort. We’re created a more welcoming avenue to learn about work that is also the real deal, involving fast paced service to the diverse customers of Hosier Lane.

Young people are learning skills and also trying out city jobs – you’d be surprised how many outer suburban young people fear the “big smoke”. These fears are further heightened if you already have housing, mental health and transport barriers. With over 50% of all new jobs growth forecast to occur in the inner city, we also need to tackle this issue head on.

Work experience in the café is combined with full accredited training courses or simple fast track training, delivered by trainers committed to the client group. It has the advantage of being located in the same building as our primary health clinic, so there is on site access to mental health and AOD workers and crisis intervention.

Some participants are simply young and unemployed and are improving their skills and resumes. They will be “good to go” into the job market in no time. But we also support participants who are more fragile – coping with a mental illness and homelessness, who may also be at risk of relapse into substance abuse.

For example, short and irregular shifts are available to accommodate individual transition to work and mental health status, lateness or irregular attendance is handled thoughtfully: what really happened? How are you coping? By doing so we're maintaining confidence and motivation and helping them to step over the fear barrier.

We are not going to mislead participants that all jobs will be like working at Good 2 Go. We have formal job descriptions, codes of conduct, regular assessment, sales targets, feedback and a structured job placement plan. We just do things through a more thoughtful prism.

It's early days at Good 2 Go but we have good news: we are seeing a rapid turnaround in esteem and engagement already. Why? We think we are designing jobs that are people ready. And in time, those people will also be job ready.

Melanie Raymond

How to engage kids in giving

Getting more out of the giving season.  The generous team at Kids in Philanthropy have some great advice - and explain how they help Youth Projects.

Source: ABC News 24

Project Press October 2014

Although youth unemployment is at its highest in decades, we’re making major inroads into job training and placement for young people, the hardest hit by a tight job market.

In this edition of Project Press we’re showcasing the turnaround results that can happen when we partner with local employers who trust and invest in their local community. We also say thank you to our very special donors and volunteers.

Our latest news here 

Laneway soccer match unites stars and homeless in Melbourne

Some of Melbourne's biggest soccer stars have joined homeless and at-risk young people for a game of street football in a city laneway.

Melbourne Victory captain Mark Milligan and player Leigh Broxham took part in the event, on Hosier Lane, to promote Homeless Persons' Week.

"For people to be putting in place days like today, to not only spread the message but to lend a hand, I think is very important," Milligan said.

Having succumbed to a strained hamstring at the World Cup in Brazil, he said the laneway match provided some stiff competition.

"Absolutely, I think any competition at the moment will be tough for me," he said.

"There's some very handy players down here today."

View VIDEO: Street football unites soccer stars and homeless (7pm TV News VIC)

Homeless outreach charity Youth Projects holds sporting events for its clients each week to promote exercise and social skills.

The not-for-profit's chair, Melanie Raymond, said it was an important part of the organisation's work.

"Sport speaks a language where people are familiar. It's a common, unifying theme," she said.

"For a group who are feeling vulnerable and excluded, it's something they can relate to."

The game comes after Melbourne City Council revealed homelessness in the city had increased 40 per cent in the past year, with 142 people homeless.

Presentations at Youth Projects' centre in the CBD have more than doubled over the same period.

"It's a crisis in plain sight, and the figures released recently finally let people see that," Ms Raymond said.

"You only need to come into the city to see that it's a dramatic rise."

By James Fettes  

Projects Press June/July 2014

We’re working at ground zero on many of the nation’s toughest problems. In the north of Melbourne, Coolaroo and Craigieburn top the nation in youth unemployment at 33 per cent. Inner Melbourne has seen a 40% rise in people sleeping rough. The community is also facing increased mental health problems and drug use. - it's all in this edition of Project Press. 

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