HOMELESSNESS is on the rise in Australia and work is being done to fight it, but Vinnies warns there are factors that often remain hidden from public view.
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia chief executive officer Toby O’Connor welcomed the Federal Government’s focus on emergency accommodation for a growing number of Australians.
But he said housing options for low-income people were seriously limited and the solution required the co-operation of not-for-profit providers, private developers and governments – federal, state and territory.
Federal Assistant Minister for Community Housing and Homelessness Luke Howarth recently made comments on Sky News that focusing on the good work being done about homelessness was important.
He cited a statistic that in the past 15 years rough sleepers, those sleeping on the street, had declined while the population had grown significantly.
This sparked a moderate outcry about the Government trying to “put a positive spin” on homelessness.
Mr O’Connor replied to these comments, saying emergency accommodation would hopefully capture people when they were beginning to fall.
But he said stronger pathways were needed to get people out of crisis circumstances and into secure, long-term, affordable housing which required a massive increase in community and public housing stock.
“The (St Vincent de Paul) Society’s first-hand experience with assisting homeless people across Australia demonstrates that those options simply do not exist at the moment,” Mr O’Connor said.
“While people sleeping rough are most visible, we cannot ignore the tens of thousands of people experiencing other forms of homelessness, including people who are couch-surfing, living in overcrowded dwellings, or living in other forms of unsafe and insecure housing.
“There might be empty dwellings in our capital cities, but whether they’re full or not will really have very little impact on the folk we’re talking about who are at the very bottom end when it comes to housing affordability.”
Rough sleepers account for about seven per cent of the homeless nationally, according to 2016 Census data.
Overcrowded dwellings accounted for 44 per cent of the homeless, making this the most common form of homelessness.
People on social welfare programs like Newstart, could not afford the rents in Australia’s big cities – where the majority of jobs are found.
The Anglicare Australia 2019 rental affordability survey found only one out of 70,000 rental listings was affordable to people living on Newstart.
“I congratulate the Government on making this issue a priority and I invite the Assistant Minister to visit housing projects launched recently by the St Vincent de Paul Society in a number of states,” Mr O’Connor said.
“We’ve been working in this space for 40 or 50 years and have a lot to offer in terms of experience and advice.
“I have written to the Assistant Minister seeking a meeting with him in the weeks ahead to discuss how the St Vincent de Paul Society can assist develop new approaches to a complex problem.”