Spending a Dr. Joel Porter has partnered with Agape Outreach, a homeless charity based in Tweed Heads, to provide free psychology appointments for those in need. Photo: Cade Mooney
Spending a Dr. Joel Porter has partnered with Agape Outreach, a homeless charity based in Tweed Heads, to provide free psychology appointments for those in need. Photo: Cade Mooney

Why assumptions about the region’s homeless are wrong

A TWEED-based psychologist at the forefront of providing mental health services to the region's most vulnerable has addressed the misconceptions of those affected by homelessness.

The border of Northern NSW and Queensland is an area notorious for having a high homeless population.

Figures in 2018 revealed at least 308 people were homeless on the Tweed Shire at any one time - 7.2 per cent higher than the state average.

And these numbers are only growing due to the financial stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dr Joel Porter has partnered with Agape Outreach to provide free Medicare mental health plans in a familiar place for those who fall through the gaps in the mainstream system.

He has an extensive resume in drug and alcohol counselling spanning from the United States, New Zealand and, for the past seven years, Australia.

For the past few years, Dr Porter has been on the coalface of the homelessness issue by volunteering in Surfers Paradise before coming to work with Agape in August.

The issues he describes are a far cry from the outdated perception that homeless people are all drug addicts who cannot hold down a job.

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Dr Porter explained just like a normal population curve - where most people are in the middle - the outliers tend to get the most attention.

"You know the super stars … someone who was homeless and within a year they run their own business or buy a house," he said.

"Everyone loves that success story and at the other end there are the people who are cycling through and struggling. They can cause disturbances and sometimes it can be a psychology issue or sometimes criminal intent but those are the people who get the most notice.

"The every day people who are trying to find a way to feed their kids or trying to find a way to get back on their feet - trying to get into a house or find a job - that's the journey, they are the majority."

 

 

Dr. Joel Porter has partnered with Agape Outreach, a homeless charity based in Tweed Heads, to provide free psychology appointments for those in need.
Dr. Joel Porter has partnered with Agape Outreach, a homeless charity based in Tweed Heads, to provide free psychology appointments for those in need.

 

According to the psychologist, one of the biggest misconceptions is that people choose to be in vulnerable situations.

"A lot of people who end up in homeless or in dire financial straights situation or become addicted - that was never their plan, they didn't intend to have to come here (Agape Outreach) to get food or see a counsellor or sleep rough or be drinking every day," Dr Porter said.

"Its sort of like life has come at them and this is the best the can do at this point in time.

"Everyone has a level of choice in your life but sometimes they don't have the same resources to help make different choices in themselves or their families.

"Other people have grown up in generations of addiction or homelessness so it feels comfortable."

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He explained a lot of the people he has worked with have ended dup on the street because of divorce or bad business decisions - "drugs had nothing to do with it, they just got stuck".

"And then people just learn to survive at whatever level your at," he said.

"The further you get away from work the harder it is to get back into it."

"The further you go into debt the harder it is to walk away from."

Dr Porter said the other popular assumption is "if you are hard on someone then they will change".

"The assumption that if you make people feel bad they will change doesn't work - there is no evidence to support that. And particularly in addiction, the idea that the more consequences you give to people, the more you make them feel bad about themselves then the more they will change is not true," he said.

"The opposite happens tends to push them further away."