‘Bridgette’ by David Kelly
‘Without a House: Homelessness in Brisbane’ – Panel Discussion
By Elizabeth Ralph
Tonight 105, 000 Australians will have no home to return to at the end of their day. An even greater number tonight, will be living in unstable housing, steps away from homelessness. Due to the transitionary nature of homelessness and entrenched stigma, homelessness often remains silent and if noticed stigmatised.
On Fathers’ Day, Museum of Brisbane held the panel discussion ‘Without a House: Homelessness in Brisbane’ for the 100% Brisbane Program. Annie Pappalardo, 612 ABC Brisbane Producer and Team leader at Homeless Connect, hosted the discussion. Pappalardo was joined by Claire Marchesi board member of the social enterprise Orange Sky Laundry, an organisation that provides mobile laundry services and showers to the homeless, nationally. The remaining panellists, Journalist for The Australian, Trent Dalton and photographer David Kelly, the two creators of Love Stories.
Within the first five minutes of the panel discussion being initiated, the subject of the stereotypes affiliated with homelessness was raised. Pappalardo expressed that privy to her volunteer work she wondered why the homeless didn’t simply “Get a Job”, a view that Annie said has since been corrected. Before starting the project of Love Stories , a written/ visual story of the homeless in Brisbane, Kelly commented that he use to question as to “where the money goes?” when donations were given to the homeless on the street.
Dalton reflected on growing up in a housing commission home in Queensland, he questioned whether had his family been in another location, such as America, would they too have been homeless? The Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that family violence and financial hardship as the largest contributors to homelessness in Australia, the short steps to becoming homeless was reiterated continuously by the panel. The panel attributes the ‘disconnect’ between the community and the homeless, to the festering of typecasts depicting the homeless as drunkards and elderly within the broader community.
Dalton reflected on his own naivety as an aspiring journalist in his twenties, where he plugged the idea of spending a week on the streets to his then editor. With the shaking of his head, he continued how the premise of the story was flawed, that the numerous circumstances that attribute to homelessness could not be understood within one week by a young journalist, who had a home and a salary to return to. The panel discussed that the media’s framing of the homeless is often patronizing and one dimensional, Dalton and Kelly followed that they actively attempted to avoid the common mediated narrative surrounding homelessness.
Marchesi divulged that through her experiences of volunteering at Orange Sky Laundry, the common misconceptions that the broader community holds surrounding homelessness is quickly dissolved once hearing the stories of the homeless, a sentiment shared unanimously by the group. Kelly shared that at the beginning of the Love Stories project, the two journalists attended the 139 Club a drop in centre for the homeless. Kelly chose not to bring his camera for the first few visits to the venue, not only to build a rapport with his subjects but to gain a more coherent understanding of their circumstances, interests and their story. Pappalardo retold a meeting she had with a person who was homeless and how their connection through story, lead to a new understanding that surpassed the preconceived.
When the discussion was brought to a close, it was easy to lapse into a sense of pity for the homeless. Yet a comment by David Kelly continued to echo:
“When I’m photographing, it’s important to show their strength…. And there is strength”
Perhaps the weight behind storytelling, whether it’s verbal, written or visual, can continue to highlight the strength of those within the community. Perhaps then we will value their story, its power reverberating into the lonely spaces.