Voice of a Social Worker: Human Rights Day

The United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence runs annually, and is used across the world as a platform to call for the elimination of gender-based violence. The campaign starts on 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10th December, International Human Rights Day.

By Adriana, Launch Housing Southbank Crisis Accommodation Case Management Team Leader

“How do we begin to speak about human rights when the most disadvantaged people in our community are not afforded the basic human right of safe and affordable housing?

A client once said to me that she was unsure if she was able to file for an intervention order because she had not explicitly said to her ex-partner not be violent with her. I remember saying to her, it’s a basic human right for others to treat her with respect and not harm her, she looked surprised.

I realise that it is difficult for a person to believe they are worthy of basic human rights, when we live in a society where safe and affordable housing is perceived to be a luxury, rather than a human right.

Workers in the homelessness sector are often faced with the aftermath of gendered violence. We see victims who have fled their homes for safety, only to find accommodation in subpar motels, rooming houses or backpacker hostels which only offer short-term stays, before finding further accommodation in crisis accommodation or potentially on the streets if nothing else becomes available.

As workers, we see women who are often forced to decide between homelessness or returning to their abusive partners, and they have to weigh up which option is safer for them.

We work with people who have served jail time, only to be released into similar short-term housing options and even into homelessness. The prison system works on a punitive model, and little effort or time is placed in finding these men adequate and reasonable housing. Their human rights are certainly not a consideration upon their release.

Funding in the sector is lacking, which means workers are unfairly having to choose between what the safest option is for vulnerable clients. We have to speak to scared women and young people about how to ‘safely rough sleep’, when we don’t have any rooms left to accommodate them as we are continuously full to capacity.

We also have limited funding to pay for what is possibly equally, or as dangerous, private rooming housing or motels. There is no easy way to talk about these options and it’s devastating to see the despair, fear and panic in our clients’ faces. It never gets easier.

These are the times and situations when I wonder…where are these clients’ basic human rights?

Taking a stand for human rights is relevant to all of us. Our shared humanity is established on universal human rights. Today is International Human Rights Day.

As a society I believe we must do more to end homelessness to ensure the protection of the weak and most vulnerable amongst us. Human rights aren’t for a chosen few, but serve our society as a whole to make us strong, cohesive and empowered.  ”