Media Release by The Hon Tanya Pibersek MP

International eye care charity comes to the aid of 400 homeless Australians

  • Homelessness increases – single parents with children largest group seeking emergency help from Salvation Army
  • Australian 7 millionth person to receive free eye care from OneSight

The health implications of Australia’s growing ranks of homeless were put in the spotlight today as a Salvation Army centre in central Sydney hosted eye screenings for over 400 homeless Australians through the OneSight Foundation – an international not-for-profit organisation dedicated to detecting and addressing vision problems of people in need.

Attended by Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, and supported by the Federal Minister for Housing, The Hon Tanya Plibersek, MP, today’s eye screening and supply of prescription glasses was conducted as part of OneSight’s ongoing partnership with the Salvation Army and other charitable groups in Australia.

It also marked an important milestone in OneSight’s global work, through which an Australian has become the seven millionth aid recipient worldwide since the OneSight Foundation commenced work 20 years ago.

More than 155,000 Australians in need have been assisted by OneSight in the past seven years, including more than 2,300 through the Salvation Army.

Today’s screening at Foster House is part of a wider screening over three days of homeless and disadvantaged people supported by the Salvation Army in inner Sydney.

In addition, further eye screenings are planned for Salvation Army clients around Australia over the next few months.

Federal Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek, said: “The Australian Government, in its White Paper on homelessness, has committed to halving homelessness by 2020. While the White Paper is supported by record levels of additional funding for specialist accommodation and support services for people who are homeless, we cannot do this alone. Achieving our goal would not be possible without the efforts of the corporate and private sector. The screening and testing of up to 400 homeless men, women and youth over three days is a huge effort and confirms the commitment that Luxottica’s OneSight Foundation has to providing the gift of sight to disadvantaged people.”

The Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, MP, said: “This OneSight initiative is a fantastic example of corporate social responsibility in action and I’d like to pay special tribute to those Luxottica staff who have volunteered their services for these screenings.”

The free eye screening and testing clinic has been held at a time when the Salvation Army’s emergency relief centres in major cities have seen a significant rise in the number of people seeking help due to unemployment or reduced working hours.

Last month the Salvation Army saw a four-fold increase in the number of people seeking assistance compared with the May 2008 monthly figure.

According to Major Marina Randall, Community Support Services adviser for the Salvation Army, the largest group of people coming through the Salvation Army’s doors over the past four months has been single parents with children.

Recent Federal Government statistics show that almost one in ten homeless Australians are aged under 121 and more than one in three are young people aged 12 to 24 years2.

Children and youth in homeless families are at greater risk of experiencing ongoing homelessness and healthcare issues over their lifetime.

“A large part of our role is to keep the homeless out of a downward spiral, and maintaining overall health and wellbeing is a critical part of that. The OneSight partnership is invaluable to detecting eye issues, which are usually overlooked when people have so much other stress in their lives. Also, young people are less aware of any changes to their vision and often do not get the help they need,” said Major Randall.

The OneSight Foundation is backed by Luxottica, the world’s leading global eye care and eyewear group and operator of OPSM, Laubman & Pank, Budget Eyewear, Sunglass Hut and Bright Eyes in Australia.

Luxottica’s CEO for Australasia, South East Asia and South Africa, Chris Beer, said: “Through OneSight’s global experience with communities in need, we know that homeless children are more likely to have vision problems than other children, which can lead to a further reduction in their quality of life.”

“In Australia, short-sightedness accounts for around 90 per cent of vision problems in young people. The good thing is that with early detection it can be corrected.”

Mr Beer emphasised that social exclusion resulting from homelessness and poor vision can have enormous personal and community costs. “As Australians, we each have a part to play in helping those less fortunate where we can,” he said.

OneSight’s work has also been endorsed by one of Australia’s leading researchers in social disadvantage, Peter Saunders, Research Professor in Social Policy at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Commenting on the Salvation Army screening initiative, Professor Saunders said: “Homelessness is the severest form of exclusion and its effects on young people are often devastating. The global financial crisis has focused attention on the excessive incomes of the rich, but its biggest effects are on those most disadvantaged, who have no buffer to fall back on in this time of crisis.”

The seven millionth person given a free eye screening, eye test and donated new glasses is Mistie-Lea, aged 17 years old, who has received support from the Salvation Army through its Oasis Youth Support Network.

She has recently started Year 10 at the Oasis school, where she is currently receiving one-on-one teaching assistance.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001) Census of Population and Housing Australia
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2001) Counting the Homeless, Cat. No. 2050.0
    *Source: Correctable & non-correctable visual impairment in a population based sample of 12 year old Australian children – Vol. 142, No. 1- 2006, Elsevier