By Theresia Titus
Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton launched the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ACBC) Social Justice Statement 2018-2019 on 20 September at the Newman Siena Centre.
The event was opened by Justice, Ecology and Development Office (JEDO) Director Carol Mitchell with a Welcome to Country by Aunty Marie Taylor.
Beginning his speech, Bishop Sproxton drew on his own experience of encountering homelessness when he came home one evening and found two homeless persons on his verandah at his then-home in Highgate.
Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton officially launched the 2018–2019 Social Justice Statement of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, titled “A Place To Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land” in Perth. Photo: Beryl Rahman.
“They were a young couple and the Aboriginal woman had given birth to a child and the couple had been together for some time.
“The baby had been taken from them and was put into care,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“So, I allowed them to stay there, following the example of Emeritus Archbishop Hickey because he used to do the same sort of thing at his little cottage at the Cathedral.
“It gave me the opportunity to learn about their lives, to learn about them and to understand their circumstances.
“Then one day I heard that their little baby had died, and because the department couldn’t find them for two weeks, they had not been told,” he continued.
“Imagine the grief they were experiencing when they discovered the little child had died and had been dead for two weeks already.”
Left to right: JEDO’s Carol Mitchell, Year of Youth Coordinator for CYM Adeline Bock, Renay Grech, Bishop Donald Sproxton, RUAH Community Services’ Debra Zanella, former homeless person Desire Mallet, and Deacon Gregory Lowe. Photo: Beryl Rahman/JEDO.
Bishop Sproxton explained that the couple are just two of the 116,000 Australians living in that situation, which is the reason why the bishops chose to make the statement for this year on the question of homelessness on Social Justice Sunday 30 September.
Restating the main point of the statement that housing is a right and not just a privilege, Bishop Sproxton referred to the law of Moses about being indebted to another and it was permissible to take what was owed, including their cloak.
However, the cloak must be returned to the person in the evening for them to use a covering and protection during the night.
Drawing on the Old Testament, Bishop Sproxton emphasised how “the enticement of advancing one’s wealth means that we can make decisions that are purely based upon what we want for ourselves and what we think we need for our security.”
“In many cases, we will compromise that perspective of looking beyond our own needs and our own rights, our own aspirations,” he said.
“So this statement, and I think the words of Pope Francis in his letter speaks on this question of homelessness, will always bring us back to examine our own hearts and aspirations to always put the needs of others before our own wants and needs.
“The members of our community need places to live because a home will give them a sense of security and as Pope Francis called it, a place that also provides a sense of worth, not just protection,” he explained.
Bishop Sproxton also highlighted in his speech, the collaboration between the leaders of Churches and the government, possibly resulting in functional outcomes in tackling the challenge of homelessness.
“With the help of St Vincent de Paul, there is now another hostel in Perth which had been named after Tom Fisher, a well-known Catholic supporter and a worker for St Vincent de Paul over many years.
“That was the outcome of collaboration between the churches and state government,” he said.
“We need to be a voice for the voiceless, to be a voice to those who are homeless in our community and to keep raising this question with those in government, for we need them to be with us in these sorts of initiatives.”
At the end of his speech, Bishop Sproxton reminded the audience about the relevant documents published by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council which inform “even more not just on the questions of homelessness but other social issues in our countries today”.
The launch was then followed by a panel discussion facilitated by Archdiocese Manager Strategy Implementation and Support Renay Grech, with panel members RUAH Community Services Chief Executive Debra Zanella, Western Australia Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office Director Deacon Gregory Lowe and a former homeless man Desire Mallet, who shared his experience.
“I have had a permanent place to live and to sleep since two years ago, after six years of homelessness that I had to survive, day after day, night after night, breath after breath,” Mr Mallet said.