The St Vincent de Paul Society at the ANU organised a panel discussion on poverty alleviation and awareness on the night of October 14, hosting Labor Senator Jan McLucas, Vinnies’ National Policy Advisor Rik Sutherland, Ebony Hoiberg from Raising Hope, and ANU Student Joseph Frawley.

Raising Hope is a Canberran non-profit organisation that uses volunteer university students to build confidence and self-empowerment in local children.

The speakers engaged a range of issues from the awareness of homeless experiences, policy and NGO models for poverty alleviation services, and the issue of poverty and homelessness within the student body.

On the nature of poverty itself Frawley – who is currently engaged in sleeping in his car for the duration of his honours thesis to build awareness and funds for Vinnies’ Clemente program – labelled poverty as a “poly-centric problem” and highlighted how his own efforts allowed him to build empathy with homeless people.

Senator McLucas agreed and told Woroni that “the root causes [of poverty] are really multidimensional,” but specifically pointed out locational, family, and health issues that significantly impact the ability of persons to earn a living.

Sutherland also noted that “poverty is deeply structural,” and underlined the strategies of Vinnies to combat homelessness and poverty. He highlighted the advantages of the “volunteer-led” model of the organisation, and when compared with for-profit organisations stressed that “[Vinnies is] ultimately mission driven rather than profit driven,” despite the benefits of the private sector in terms of capital and innovation.

However, he believed efforts should not be led by the private sector, saying that “it just doesn’t work. There have been too many scandals and too many cases where services haven’t been delivered in the right way because they’re profit driven.”

Senator McLucas also believed “we need to have a diversity of players in the service sector,” but pointed to “the great work in the charitable and non-profit sectors. It is terribly important that big players like Vinnies and Anglicare remain viable and strong, but there are also a large number of non-profit services that are also very valuable.”

“The sustainability of our non-profit sector should be very high, if not at the top, of our goals,” she said.

Regarding necessary reforms, Hoiberg stressed the need to change education policy, even by sharing experiences and ideas on a grassroots, personal level, noting that “everyone can make a change.”

She also stated that “schools are focused on getting kids into university, but losing many kids on the way” due to an inflexible education system that should see students “not only as investments but as human beings.”

The panellists also addressed poverty within the university environment, with McLucas noting that an “elite environment” deters people from seeking help, particularly for international students away from family support. Frawley agreed that it detracted from student life, and Hoiberg cited her experiences in Raising Hope, and the usage of ANUSA’s free food program as testament to poverty problems within the student body.

Ultimately, the speakers enjoyed the panel and discussion, with McLucas praising the youth’s outlook in problem-solving in particular. Sutherland believed that poverty would ultimately need to be “addressed in a multifaceted way” given its “intersectional” nature, while McLucas advocated “a whole-of-government approach” to combating poverty, despite its difficulty.

Image: Joseph Frawley by Stuart Hay.