The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Welcome back to a new term. This is now the fifth time we have had a three-week mid-year break at Scotch College and the feedback from students, staff and parents, which I receive in person and anecdotally, tells me the concept is still very well received. When we introduced the extended break, it took a couple of years until the group of seven PSA schools could determine what effect the schools having this form of break would have on the sporting fixtures. As you may realise, being part of the PSA is a major commitment and something all of the schools and colleges take very seriously. I am pleased to report that as a result of collaboration between the PSA schools, the three-week mid-year break has become a permanent part of the annual calendar for four of the PSA schools, assisted by the support of those who still have a two-week break.

Across the country this week marks ‘Homelessness Week’. I spoke about this to our Senior School students at last week’s assembly. It is not an easy construct to understand for many students, nor us, given that our reality is such a long way from experiencing homelessness or even seeing it in action. Through our College’s focus on Service and Citizenship, we do work with agencies who deal with this matter. Addressing long-term homelessness within our own state is not simply a matter of providing the usual food and clothing. Homelessness is a societal issue and requires sound government policy and action. Of course, for all of us, education and general awareness are just two of the keys to assist with the challenge of finding a longer-term solution.

To contextualise the issue of homelessness, following are some basic facts.

  • The estimated number of people experiencing homelessness in Western Australia has remained consistent between the 2011 and 2016 Census, with over 9,000 people experiencing homeless on any one night.
  • People become homeless for lots of different reasons. There are social causes of homelessness, such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment; and life events which cause individuals to become homeless. Many people become homeless because they can no longer afford the rent.
  • 116,427 people were experiencing homelessness each night. There are 50 homeless people for every 10,000 Australians.

Key Western Australian estimates tell us that:

  • 9,000 plus people experience homelessness on any given night
  • The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homelessness is more than 13 times the non-Indigenous population

Of these people:

  • 1200 were children were under the age of 12
  • 3132 were people under the age of 25
  • 1508 people were over the age of 55

Homelessness is a complex societal issue but there are some simple things we can all do to help reduce the impact, such as:

  • Educating ourselves. There are myriad reasons why a person becomes homeless — lack of affordable housing, loss of a job, divorce, illness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, et cetera. One of the first steps you can take toward helping the homeless is trying to understand how they got there in the first place.
  • Showing respect. Do not treat a homeless person as if they are invisible. Many people experiencing homelessness say that the loss of dignity that accompanies their situation is harder to bear than the actual loss of physical things.
  • Donating. Possibly the item we most understand. Clothing is a big one here, as are shoes and food. Non-perishable items are always in short supply at food pantries and homeless shelters. Other items that might be needed include blankets, coats, books and small kitchen items, such as cups and utensils.
  • Volunteering. Sign up to work an evening shift at your local homeless shelter. Answer phones, sort mail, serve food, wash dishes, distribute clothes, babysit kids, clean floors, fix a leaky toilet. Find out what they need and how your skills can help.

Sometimes, when we break a problem down, it is the simple things that can make such a difference for so many. Of course, the challenge is also to see this issue and many other challenges from a wider community perspective.

Speaking of community, this term marks the most important one for our Year 12s. Our School Captain, Harry Gilchrist, addressed this topic at our last Senior School assembly. It is our job to support our senior boys as they work towards finishing their educational journey at Scotch. I ask that wherever possible you support our boys in your thoughts, prayers and deeds. Just knowing we are journeying alongside them makes such a difference for each boy.

In his book 'The Art of Belonging' Hugh Mackay provides us with a reminder of the importance of communities:

'We are, by nature, social creatures who congregate; it's in our cultural DNA. We are not good at surviving in isolation. We rely on communities to support and sustain us, and if those communities are to survive and prosper, we must engage with them and nurture them. That's the beautiful symmetry of human society; we need communities and they need us.'

I look forward to an exciting term and the opportunity to meet with many of you and share the vibrancy of our own community through the numerous activities this term will deliver.

Have a great fortnight.