Low cost housing and The Block

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A word from our CEO, Brad Webb:

For the last couple of months, reality TV Show The Block has transformed a Melbourne building they dubbed “the worst house in the best street” into a set of multimillion dollar apartments.

What many people don’t know is that this so-called “worst house” was once a low-cost hotel that kept many local people out of homelessness.

Previously known as “The Gatwick Private Hotel”, the business had long-term residents who relied on the lower-than-market rent, as well as many short-term visitors, some for one or two nights.

This website – which appears to be a tribute to the building as it used to operate – describes The Gatwick as refuge for many people “in temporary crisis, desperately needing somewhere to stay, with scant other accommodation options”. The website captures the voices of residents who all speak with one theme: this was their last option for housing. One former resident, Jennifer, said “the door’s been open to people who may not usually get a door…to get off the street for a few days or a few weeks is lifechanging for some people.”

Local advocates admit the premises were in bad condition and couldn’t have remained operational in that state. However their recent protests at the newly-renovated building were driven by a criticism of the broader issue: the lack of long-term, affordable housing with support services.

It comes as no surprise that a significant driver for many people who end up experiencing homelessness is the inability to afford a roof over their head. Samaritans research released earlier this year as part of the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot showed that locally, more people are being pushed into rental stress and hardship – and ultimately homelessness – because of the shortage of secure, affordable housing.

Social housing is also out of reach for many – as at June 30 this year, waitlists for social housing were at 189,400 households.

Improving the stock levels of affordable and social housing is one of the main calls from the Everybody’s Home campaign. The campaign calls for action at both national and state levels to address a “broken” housing system. I’d encourage you to take a look at the campaign and consider signing on to the pledge.

While increasing the number of dwellings is crucial, investment is also needed to support people in other areas of their life that have contributed to their homelessness, such as mental health issues from past trauma. This article reported that many who had lived at The Gatwick were now sleeping rough across the road, despite being housed after the Gatwick’s closure. This speaks to the complexities of housing and homelessness – a roof over your head is one of many things required to sustain a stable life.

The reality is that homelessness is complex and widespread – but it’s solvable.

My recent blog for Homelessness Week last month explored simple ways to get involved and to help end homelessness, together.