Housing ends homelessness #HW2019

This piece was also published in the Newcastle Herald newspaper Time to raise the roof over homeless crisis“.

Housing ends homelessness. Seems like a common-sense statement, right?

It not only makes sense, but there is clear evidence that once a person is housed in a permanent dwelling, this foundation helps them to stabilise other areas of their life and thrive in their community.

So, why aren’t we housing all the people who are experiencing homelessness?

The short answer is, there is simply not enough affordable housing for people to live in, within our local communities, in NSW, and across the nation.

NSW needs more than 300,000 affordable rentals and social housing properties by the year 2036 to meet current shortfall and projected demand. That equates to about 18,500 properties per year, every year. Currently the NSW Government’s Communities Plus building program is committed to providing 2,350 per year for the next 10 years. The numbers don’t add up.

Of the housing that is currently available, there is very little that is appropriate and affordable for people on low incomes. Earlier this year, Samaritans released data for the Rental Affordability Snapshot which found that a young person living on youth allowance would not find a single affordable housing option in the entire region. This has been the case for at least eight years.

This reality plays out in the demand for the youth homelessness services at Samaritans. In 2017-18 Samaritans homelessness services supported 2,788 young people between the ages of 12-25. In 2018-19 we worked with 514 young people in our Homeless Youth Assistance Program (HYAP), which is currently funded to support 250 people. There is also an over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people in these numbers, showing we have a long way to go in addressing disadvantage.

The human impact of the homelessness crisis can sometimes be lost within the talk of policy and strategy.

Human beings are complex, and often people experiencing homelessness have additional challenges in their life such as mental ill health or addiction. Addressing such challenges becomes next to impossible for those who aren’t afforded the basic right to have a roof over their head.

Homelessness is not the result of personal failings. Research and experience tell us that the main causes of homelessness are poverty, unaffordable rents and family violence.

A person experiencing homelessness due to poverty means their income is simply not enough to pay rent plus all the bills.

A person experiencing homelessness due to unaffordable rent means that they cannot pay the soaring rental prices – they’re priced out from the start.

A person experiencing homelessness due to family violence has fled their own home and become displaced through no fault of their own.

Australians believe in a fair go. And for those experiencing poverty, family violence or paying unaffordable rents, their situations are anything but fair. When we, as a community, and our governments fail to prioritise homelessness, it’s people that suffer.

We’ve been quietly battling a homelessness crisis for many years but it’s time to make some noise.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd committed to halving homelessness by 2020. We are a long way from meeting that target. The shortage of affordable and social housing is largely due to a failure of successive governments to implement adequate housing policy and initiatives to support people in their most basic needs.

Samaritans is privileged to work directly with people facing homelessness in Taree and young people facing homelessness in the Hunter region. Every day Samaritans sees the ongoing vulnerabilities that homelessness creates and the impact of a lack of national strategy.

If there is no national strategy to tackle homelessness, more people will be forced into homelessness by a system that is meant to support them.

This Homelessness Week, Samaritans stands with the Everybody’s Home campaign and their call to our State and Federal governments for action.

We know housing ends homelessness. This week, I’m asking you to show support for the Everybody’s Home campaign by visiting the website, learning more about the issue of homelessness, and consider acting, including signing the petition and connecting with your local member.

Brad Webb, Chief Executive Officer of Samaritans Foundation