It's 2020. Winter. In Hobart.
We find ourselves in unprecedented times.
In spite of an already desperate need for affordable housing, and now with the invisible threat of COVID-19 as our community bedfellow, we are seeing the rates of homelessness worsen, we are witnessing the gulf of inequality widen, and the scope of those affected by a diabolical storm of circumstances broaden well beyond our mythical idea about 'what homelessness looks like.'
It is safe to say, as in truth it has been for some time, now, it looks like you.
It looks like me.
It looks like 1 life shock, one job loss, one infirmity beyond our control.
You cannot stop yourself becoming homeless if the circumstances are stacked against you, it is not even up to you.
What is up to us, is how we stop each other from this slide into destitution, with smarter, kinder and broader community and government supports, infrastructure and service provision.
A person experiencing homelessness can be anyone, in 2020 in Hobart.
A climate of job loss, COVID19, housing shortage and societal inequity has insured that nobody is immune.
"I am somebody who experiences the trauma, the memory, the absence of that most fundamental thing- a home.
Through no fault of my own I have no foundation, and it's beyond hard.
I get up, get on with it, just like you do, but I deserve more, because I am not a statistic.
I am somebody.
I am somebody you know, who once had what you have, somebody who you love, you worked with, went to school with, married, raised, or raised you, hired you, gave you something once. I did not choose to be where I am, and if there was more housing, better housing, accessible and affordable housing, well, I would be in it. I would be just like you are now.
Talk to me, hear me, see me, value me, respect me, I am somebody.
Somebody who is overlooked, undermined, invisible and that hurts doubly because I have already lost so much.
I won't be invisible.
I demand my dignity, my autonomy.
I am somebody just like you.
Everyone deserves a home.
I am somebody who may be living in limbo, in rental stress, in domestic violence, in poverty triggered by any small change to my circumstances.
This was not my choice. Homelessness is an affliction, not a lifestyle choice.
It is the failure of a system in action.
It is a design failure of our society, a rich society, there is no justification for it.
Just like you, I am not immune to losing my security.
Just like you I am more than my circumstances.
Just like you, I am somebody .
I am somebody with goals, feelings, experiences, someone with stories, with a history, with fears, hopes, skills, wisdom and value.
I am somebody with no home."
I am Somebody.
I Am Somebody aims to honour unique stories and people, and find points of connection between the audience and the participants around issues and ideas of home, and of the impacts of living in a homeless state, on all aspects of one's life.
This exhibition allows space for a lived experience narrative to be heard, and through doing so, breaks conventional norms and stereotyping of what homelessness is portrayed as, what it looks like, and who is affected by it.
It restores the core issue of dignity and autonomy to the discussion and subjects, and quantifies the damage done when we rob people of it through portrayals that are paternalistic, disconnected, or diminish the subjects of homelessness to objects of it.
This project honours these stories, that are diverse, brave and as you may well realise, (with some possible degree of discomfort and challenge)-relatable to your own in some ways.
I am Somebody is a true account, through their own voices and images, of people who make up the Housing with Dignity Reference group, and their journeys in and out of homelessness.
'For people like us, with lived experience of the pointy end of housing inequity, solutions have been largely about us, without us. The voice of lived experience in policy making and community building have long been ignored in favour of top down monologuing about how we never seem to have enough to look after people in ways they need to be looked after. We are sidelined, in spite of effectively being experts in the issue. Solutions to housing inequality must not only filter down from govt, but crucially, must percolate up from the grass roots folks who live this stuff every day, and we formed a committee of lived experience to do this work.
On 18 February 2019, the Hobart City Council approved the establishment of a Housing with Dignity Reference Group; comprising of community members with a lived experience of homelessness or extreme housing stress. 'I am someone', is a record of this place and this time and those surviving through it against all odds, and thriving when given the chance to be housed, securely and with dignity.
It features the stories and portraits of these resilient and active community members and carries with it a reminder, and a warning, you may connect with these people's experience, you may see yourself in the things you share in common. You may realise the uneasy sense of-' There but for the grace of God, go I'. This is what we want, and as a community what we need. We need you to see yourself in our shoes, that if you may fall, and call, 'I am Somebody', there will be someone else there who sees you, hears you and relates to you to help you up. Until homelessness affects none of us, it can affect all of us.
This Homelessness week, if you only stop to reflect on one thing, let it be this bunch of facts - Nobody is immune to homelessness. Stigma derails solutions from the ground up and you likely have bought into some of this 'othering', without realising it.
Homelessness in this climate is very rarely ever a result of lifestyle choice, but a knock on effect from any variety of life shocks; a job loss, an illness, divorce or domestic violence, lease endings, COVID-19, and insecure, overpriced and shrinking rental market.
We must create sustainable, inclusive communities and elevate social mobility for everyone.
As one of the richest countries in the OECD, we could be leaders in this field...
So this is us, the Housing with Dignity Reference Group.
We are all someone, who deserves to live with dignity and housing security.'
Hobartians Facing Homelessness and Housing with Dignity Reference Group.