St Vincent de Paul Society and Bethlehem House inaugural Employability Forum.

The St Vincent de Paul Society and Bethlehem House held its inaugural Employability Forum in Hobart today. The event was billed as a unique opportunity for government, business leaders, and employers to understand the challenges faced by a cohort of people affected by chronic unemployment.

Speaking about the Employability Forum, Bethlehem House Executive Manager, Mr Ian Robertson, said an increasingly high number of long-term unemployed have been experiencing homelessness for some time, or they have completed a period of incarceration, but they are eager to re-enter the workforce and contribute to society.

“Many people in this cohort of potential employees are highly skilled and committed to their careers, trades, and professions. However, social sigma often places obstacles in their way to re-enter the workforce,” Ian said.

“The Employability Forum is aimed at opening doors for employees and employers at a time when Tasmanian businesses need diligent workers, and the long-term unemployed need jobs. There are huge social benefits, and significant financial savings to society, when we take a more pragmatic and compassionate approach to finding meaningful employment for this marginalised group.

“There are financial incentives for employers who offer training and employment to this cohort, recidivism drops, which decreases costs for policing and running the justice system. Then there is the social benefit, based on building more housing so that people experiencing homelessness and former prisoners can put down roots, start rebuilding their lives, and commence making a financial and social contribution to society.

“The criminal justice system is often associated with people experiencing homelessness. Many former prisoners fall into homelessness after being released. This is primarily due to the lack of access to housing, limited employment opportunities, and inadequate health-based support for issues such as mental health and substance abuse.

“There is also a cohort of people experiencing homelessness who end up in prison due to a combination of mental health issues, substance abuse, and who are motivated by survival strategies, such as turning to crime to make ends meet, begging, sleeping in cars, couch-surfing, or sleeping rough. This results in higher levels of police surveillance, due to their visibility on the streets, which creates a revolving door scenario whereby incarceration and experiences of homelessness are the only two realities for many individuals.

“Without the support of family and friends, or an offer of employment, or access to sufficient funds to re- establish life in the community, people experiencing homelessness and former prisoners face many different challenges. Securing housing, finding employment, dealing with health and mental health issues, being the perpetrators or victims of violence, and substance use, are just a few of the challenges they face.

“According to the “Health of Australia’s Prisoners – 2018” report, prepared by The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more than half (54%) of the people released from prison expected to be experiencing homelessness, or didn’t know where they would stay, once released. The report stated:

“People experiencing homelessness is far more common among people in contact with the prison system than among people in the general community. About one-third (33%) of prison entrants said they were experiencing homelessness in the four weeks before prison – 28% were in short-term or emergency accommodation, and 5% were in unconventional housing or sleeping rough. More than half (54%) of prison dischargees expected to be homeless on release from prison, with 44% planning to sleep in short-term or emergency accommodation, 2% were planning to sleep rough, and 8% did not know where they would sleep.”

“Vinnies and Bethlehem House created the Employability Forum to encourage businesses to be part of the solution to end entrenched unemployment, assist the people experiencing homelessness , and give a second chance to those leaving the criminal justice system. We are asking businesses to consider becoming inclusive employers by making a positive change in the lives of vulnerable people in need.

“People experiencing homelessness, crime, and recidivism are a consequence of a perceived – and sometimes real – lack of alternatives. Meaningful employment, along with secure housing, is one pathway to rehabilitation that is in the power and gift of governments and the community. The St Vincent de Paul Society and Bethlehem House do their part to support the people experiencing homelessness, and former prisoners. However, we cannot do it alone. The government and business sector must step up to assist this cohort on their pathway back into the community. It is financially and socially in their best interest to do so,” Ian said.

MEDIA NOTES: The St Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris, France in 1833 by a 20-year old Italian student, Frederic Ozanam. Today, the Society operates in 153 countries and has over 800,000 members. Australia has over 60,000 members, dedicated to assisting people in need and combating social injustice. The Society started in Tasmania in 1899 when founders established a Conference in Launceston. From humble beginnings, the Society has grown to 25 Conferences within three Regional Councils across Tasmania. Each Conference undertake a variety of good works, the most recognised being the traditional Vincentian home visits and the annual CEO Sleep-out to draw attention to people experiencing homelessness.

Media contact, Mark Wells: +61 414 015 966 (24-hours)
© St Vincent de Paul Society and MWPA.

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