Australia Network
English Bites


print friendly page for

21 June 2005

Homeless University

Find out about a new program that tries to help homeless people to change their situation.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: The problems faced by the thousands of homeless people in this state are complex. Simply giving them a bed, a meal or even a job won't necessarily fix their situation.

In the heart of Sydney there are dozens of services for the homeless. The Vincentian Village, run by the St Vincent de Paul Society, is just one.

Here the basic needs of the homeless are met. There's a day service which provides meals, washing facilities and crisis care which looks at where someone is going to sleep, management of their mental health problems and drug dependencies. The village also has a number of apartments for homeless families. This service is unique in Sydney in that it focuses on helping single dads. And there's also an aged care hostel for elderly men and women who've been homeless and have no family or support network. Two years ago the St Vincent de Paul Society decided it wanted to move beyond providing these basic services. For some time it'd been interested in a program - which had been successful in the US - it involved taking university classes to the homeless.

The idea behind the concept was to look past the beds and meals and to start feeding minds.

PETER HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: What they did was they approached a few universities and a few of the universities felt, why would we want to be interested in working with the homeless people? So when they came to myself at Australian Catholic University I said we can do this. The subjects we picked were from the humanities and the students when they finish four units end up receiving a certificate in Liberal Arts.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: The course is made up of four subjects: ethics, spirituality, Australian Contemporary History and Art History. Each semester only one subject is offered and the class is limited to 15.

GRAHAM ENGLISH: The biggest realisation I've had in doing all of this is how thin a line it is between me and them that one nervous breakdown or one unfortunate incident in my life or something that I could be there.

SARAH SCHOFIELD: It's an unusual idea taking university to the homeless. A lot of people in the community would say why aren't you teaching these people how to get a job?

SUE CHANT: I think it's very simplistic to think all you need to do is help somebody get a job because that isn't the beginning and the end of everything.

It's empowering the person to take control over their lives to give them choices and allow them to take the direction that they need to take in their lives.

story notes

St Vincent de Paul Society
The St Vincent de Paul society is a religious charity. The members and volunteers work to help people in need. A charity is an institution set up to help people. And a society here means an organisation, usually one formed by people who share an interest. In this case, itís a religious group.

basic needs
Basic needs are the most simple things people need to live, things like food, water and shelter.

Here met is the past participle of the irregular verb meet.

regular food

washing facilities
places to wash

crisis care
help in time of trouble or danger

drug dependencies
Here, a dependency is an addiction, itís when someone continually takes drugs.

idea behind the
If we talk about the idea behind something, we mean the basic reason or aim for it.

feeding minds
In a general sense, to feed something means to supply with fuel and energy to keep it working. So to feed minds means to give people things to think about, to keep their minds active.

end up
If you with something, you get it after doing a number of things.

Example: I ended up with a degree after three years of study.
For more about the phrasal verb end up, follow the link.
more information: end up

If something is empowering, it gives power or confidence to people. It helps people to take control of their lives.