A homelessness advocate is setting off on a gruelling 40-day walk to campaign for a national response to the crisis.
Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle, 53, will begin his ‘Walk the Walk’ from Melbourne on Friday and make his way to Parliament House in Canberra.
“Basically it’s come out of a pretty deep-seated frustration,” Major Nottle told The New Daily.
He said the homelessness rate is increasing and the “key drivers of homelessness” need to be targeted.
Major Nottle is calling for a “bipartisan, long-term” plan to fill the “massive gap” in policy – by funding mental health and drug services, as well as public housing and frontline training for community workers.
“Homelessness affects the most vulnerable people in our community and it actually needs to sit above politics now.”
One of the biggest issues he’s witnessed on the streets of Melbourne is lasting trauma from child abuse.
“Some of these people are in their 40s and 50s now and haven’t received support to address that trauma.”
He said some people ended up developing a serious mental health issue from trauma and self-medicating with illicit substances or abusing prescription drugs.
“Services that address those issues are key,” Major Nottle said.
A young man he worked with took his life last December. Major Nottle visited his family in Mount Gambier, where the man’s mother told him: “If we had better mental health and addiction services in this community, I think this would have never happened.”
Major Nottle said the homelessness plan would also need to grapple with the “macro issues” like negative gearing and the housing affordability crisis.
Before embarking on the more than 700 kilometre walk, Major Nottle has been checked out by his GP and received some physiotherapy.
“I’ve been walking on a regular basis to make sure I’m mentally strong for what’s ahead.”
He’ll be wearing a pair of Nike runners and Snowgum boots donated to him for the cause.
There’ll be a car on either side of him as he jogs along. A donated campervan, with a barbecue, will drive the same route for him to sleep in.
“I think physically it’s going to be a real challenge. I’m certainly not an elite athlete, I’m far from it,” Major Nottle said.
But he said the hardest thing would be if it did not result in any significant change.
Family, people who have experienced homelessness and politicians will also be joining him. Major Nottle said he believed Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy would do a leg.
Mr Guy did not respond to requests for comment to confirm.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is understood to be joining the walk.
Mr Shorten told The New Daily he was “really proud of Brendan” for the “amazing thing he is doing”.
“Every time I catch up with Brendan I learn something new and I’m looking forward to hearing about his journey.”
He said homelessness was a “national crisis” which required further policy intervention.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews did not respond to requests for comment.
Major Nottle said he was calling on the politicians to follow the name of his campaign and “walk the walk”.
However, he didn’t think it was a hollow offer for the leaders to join the walk.
“I think it’s an opportunity for me to be in their ear talking about the issues.”
Major Nottle said homeless people are often treated like “human refuse” and it will be an opportunity for politicians to meet some of those who have experienced it.
“When you hear their stories, you’re reminded these people are human beings,” he said.
“When you spend time with them, that stereotype is blown away very quickly.
“I don’t think there’ll be anything more powerful than hearing their stores.”
Major Nottle will arrive at Parliament on October 16.
A fundraiser to support the cause has so far drummed up almost $100,000 of the $200,000 goal.
Salvation Army is also running a petition for a national response.
Readers seeking support should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.