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A journey to discovery: Learning how other countries ended homelessness


19 May 2022 at 8:48 am
Wendy Williams
We sit down with Churchill Fellow David Pearson as he gets ready to travel to the United States, to find out about his trip and what he hopes to learn about how communities around the world are reducing and ending street homelessness.


Wendy Williams | 19 May 2022 at 8:48 am


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A journey to discovery: Learning how other countries ended homelessness
19 May 2022 at 8:48 am

We sit down with Churchill Fellow David Pearson as he gets ready to travel to the United States, to find out about his trip and what he hopes to learn about how communities around the world are reducing and ending street homelessness.

David Pearson does not believe we can end homelessness in Australia – rather he recognises it to be true.

“The reason I recognise it is the same way that you don’t ‘believe’ in climate change; you either recognise what the scientists are telling us, that the climate is warming, and it is a consequence of human activity, or you don’t,” he says.

“When it comes to homelessness, you either recognise that there are some communities that have demonstrated that ending homelessness is possible and you look at the data and you understand what they have done, or you don’t.

“Other communities have done it, and I recognise that we can do it in Australia.”

Pearson is no stranger to the issue.

As the CEO of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, he is working to build a national movement of communities seeking to end rough sleeping homelessness across the nation. 

Previously he was the executive director of the Don Dunstan Foundation – where he helped lead the establishment and development of the Adelaide Zero Project, an Australian first initiative seeking to end rough sleeping homelessness in the inner city. 

Now to better understand how other communities around the world are reducing and ending street homelessness, Pearson is embarking on a jam-packed tour of the United States, as a 2021 Churchill Fellow.

The first leg of his trip will include visits to Chicago, Washington DC, New York and Seattle, with a second trip to Canada, England, Scotland and Finland planned for November.

Pearson says he is excited to learn from other communities about how they were able to demonstrate that ending homelessness is possible – something that no community here has been able to do.

“And in order to learn more about how they’ve done it, it’s really important to go and live it and breathe it and see it,” he says.

“I talk a lot about Arlington as a community for example. A lot of Australians understand it, because it is the home of the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, and they were one of the first communities to end veterans’ homelessness. And so I’m like, I want to go to Arlington and talk to the community there and speak about that, and so I am.” 

Thanks to COVID-delays the trip is taking place two years after it was originally planned. But Pearson believes that has been a blessing in disguise, as he now has a much more detailed understanding of what is going on in Australia.

Even though the Australian context is very different to the US one, he believes there is plenty that he can learn – whether that is finding out what to do or what not to do, or simply about putting things in context. 

“The privilege of my job is I get to go around and travel to communities all over Australia and talk to them about the challenges they face, and [there are so many] commonalities. Whether you are Perth, or Bundaberg or Geelong, all over the country in different cities, in different towns, the stories are so similar,” he says.

“And they are common around the world. The tools and things that they have used around the world are very applicable here, it just requires some local context and knowledge and time and effort to focus on that. 

“That’s what I am excited about.”

While Pearson is in Chicago, all of the communities from across the US that are seeking to end homelessness through the Built for Zero community are coming together there for the first time in several years. Built for Zero is a movement of more than 100 cities and counties – which includes Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney – that have committed to measurably ending homelessness, one population at a time. So far, 14 of the communities have achieved functional zero for a population. 

Being able to attend such a gathering is something Pearson believes will be a unique opportunity to be part of their learning sessions and share stories about what works and what doesn’t.

Among the other highlights of his trip, Pearson says he is particularly excited to catch up with Rosanne Haggerty, who helped pioneer the organisation Community Solutions that led to the first communities demonstrating that you can end homelessness. 

“She also helped pioneer the Common Ground movement in Australia and other things, so I am really excited to catch up with her,” he says.

“[She] has been a real source of inspiration for me.”

But as well as excitement, Pearson admits he feels the “weight of expectation” of how much to learn and share. 

“I feel that very strongly,” he says. “Because it is such a great opportunity not only from the Churchill Fellowship who is funding this, but from the Australia Alliance and all the community that supports us. 

“We’re a social enterprise and the only way that I have the ability to spend this time to go and do this is because of the support of the organisations that support the alliance.”

Following his trip Pearson will write an interim report to share his findings, with a final report to come after his second trip at the end of the year.


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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