What You're Not Seeing During The Trump And Morrison Tour

The understandable focus of the Prime Minister’s US visit has been the discussions and excursions with Donald Trump, alongside the policy debates which have followed.

But having covered the various elements of the trip for Network Ten I feel compelled to write about the plight of homelessness in the US. Everywhere we have been you can’t escape the extent of it.

I know from having researched homelessness in a previous career back in Australia the extent of it and the causes which lead to it locally. No doubt they are similar in the US, in terms of such factors as mental illness. But given Australia’s more generous welfare system, compared to the US, I assume this fact has to contribute to how much more prevalent it is in the places we have visited.

In Washington DC, in particular, the park which sits directly in front of the White House is filled with homeless people sleeping on park benches. So are other parks just a block or two further away.

A homeless man settles in for the evening at a subway stop near the White House The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates there are 10,00 - 15,000 homeless people in the US capital. Photo: Getty Images

Dignitaries who stay in neighbouring five-star hotels walk past these people on their way to lavish receptions and the like at the working residence of the President.

Scott Morrison on his official state visit stayed at Blair House, which is directly opposite the park I have referred to. Had he decided to step outside of an evening to take in the fresh air he couldn’t have missed the sight of so many people sleeping rough.

The contrast between the outdoor state dinner for Morrison, as well as the ceremony which accompanied the occasion, and the poverty of the homeless so close to the centre of US power says so much about the united land of the free and the home of the brave.

A homeless person sleeps below a sign indicating the exit to the White House. Photo: Getty

The individualism of America is both what has made it great, but also what makes me glad to live in Australia - a country with a far superior social welfare conscience.

While I’ve written and spoken many times about issues such as the need to lift the Newstart allowance, for example, as well as the unnecessarily large number of homeless in our own country, comparatively the situation appears to be much worse in the US.

Peter van Onselen is political editor for Network Ten.