THE Christmas season is shaping up as one of extreme financial hardship for many families, while an increasing number of people are being forced into homelessness.
As the St Vincent de Paul Society launches its annual Christmas Appeal, the organisation is predicting the next few weeks will be tougher than ever before for people in need.
“Certainly (there is) going to be a lot of stress around Christmas. There won’t even be enough money in some cases to have a family get-together or put festive goodies on the table for the family and kids,” St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland state president John Forrest said.
“Sadly, 2018 looks no better, with increasing numbers of everyday Queenslanders marginalised by disadvantage.
“Our volunteers and staff are seeing people without accommodation consigned to living in their cars before Christmas has even started.
“Unfortunately some have left it too late to call us before becoming homeless and we’re working hard right up to Christmas to get them back into emergency or affordable housing.
“Others are just trying to keep a roof over their heads; they’ve got rent arrears, unpaid energy bills, no regular meals on the table and it’s just beyond their reach to get ahead.
“They’re on the cusp of being evicted.
“Sky-high bills for electricity and gas have spilled over from the winter period (and) are still unpaid, so, as we head into summer, services get cut off and this exacerbates their problems even further.”
In one of the worst-hit regions, the Sunshine Coast, an estimated 1000 people sleep rough each night.
It’s a snapshot of the nation – with the latest homeless figure standing at 105,000 each night.
“We may never know the real extent of homelessness,” Nambour’s Annette Baker, recently named The Catholic Leader’s Community Leader of the Year, and a board member of Vinnies Housing.
“There are people who are couch surfing.
“They are just going from friend’s house to friend’s house until they wear out their welcome and then they move on.
“There are a lot of people like that just cadging a bed wherever they can.
“We have people here who sleep it rough.
“There are people on the coast, people we support, they live in the bush in a tent.”
For Mrs Baker, one of the underlying reasons more families, single parents and older women – one of the most vulnerable groups – are being forced to the margins is because of a lack of affordable housing.
This means at least 30 per cent of weekly income is spent on rent.
A recent national survey showed rent bleeding some low-income households of almost 90 per cent of income.
Mrs Baker has joined a chorus of sector leaders demanding more government money be put aside for affordable housing.
Adrian Pisarski, executive officer of National Shelter, which compiles a quarterly Rental Affordability Index, said December figures showed there was, “virtually no affordable housing in any Australian city for people on low incomes”.
“This is now representative of a true housing crisis in Australia and a true market failure,” he said. Sydney remained the worst city for renters, bleeding some households of almost 90 per cent of their incomes.
Hobart was the second-worst area, due to the number of people living on low incomes.
And then it was glitzy holiday destinations like Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, or the Gold Coast.
“We are expecting that homelessness would have risen quite sharply,” Mr Pisarski said.
“All of the reports that we get from services across Australia is their services are under increasing stress. We know that there have been many reports about older people suffering from homelessness, older women in particular.”