Chapter 9. Conclusion
… we end up taking alternative actions to fix these problems, rather than take legal steps, because the law doesn’t service us.1
Homelessness is often indicative of complex legal and other needs. Things have gone astray, safety nets have failed. As a result, people have lost their accommodation or are caught in marginal accommodation. Commonly they have debts, may be dealing with family law issues, have been victims of crime, accumulated fines and/or are facing criminal charges. And yet homeless people can rarely focus on resolving their legal needs. They are often preoccupied with other issues, such as finding somewhere to stay, dealing with social security issues, caring for family, keeping safe or dealing with immediate crises. Mental health and other disabilities, alcohol and other drug abuse, poor literacy and limited resources can also contribute to a situation where legal issues compound, spiralling people into or further entrenching them in homelessness. Add to this the prevalent feeling among homeless people that the system does not work in their interest, and you have a situation where people may need legal support but lack the capacity and confidence to locate and use legal assistance services or legal processes that may assist them.
Ideally, legal service provision to homeless people needs to recognise this situation. It needs to be accessible to people from the places that they frequent, to have the time and skills to assess the total legal needs of the clients and to be part of a coordinated response to those needs. ‘Coordination’ may involve having different legal services, as well as legal and non-legal service providers working together with a focus on the client (rather than individual legal problems), to address the often complex needs facing homeless people. In this regard, the role that non-legal service providers play in assisting homeless people to access and use legal assistance services and to participate in legal processes cannot be underestimated.