Growing pressure and loss of safeguards puts more people on the street

Homelessness is a growing issue. Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
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No more Band-Aid fixes. Experts say long-term and permanent solutions are needed to resolve Victoria's homelessness crisis. Fletcher Ellwood, Nesara Haideri and Jack Jowett report.

Homelessness will continue to increase after the Victorian government ended its support for the Homeless Emergency Response package and the moratorium on rent, homelessness experts say.

Haven, Home, Safe communications director Sue Masters said after the end of the moratorium period on March 29, there was a significant rise in people requesting help from their service.

“In metro Melbourne, we have seen a 400 per cent increase in people presenting to our service. Some of them have never had any interaction with the homeless service sector in the past,” she said.

Without a massive investment by government in the supply of more affordable housing, we will eventually see an increase in homelessness. People will just not be able to afford to put a roof over their head.

Ms Masters said there was not the infrastructure and services to support those in need of housing and financial stability, especially for victims of domestic violence.

“Everything starts with housing, and we need more of it, and we need to understand that there are a growing number of people who are on the margins because they cannot obtain safe, secure, affordable housing,” she said.

Major setbacks for homeless

St Kilda crisis centre assistant manager Aldo Barker said the end of the Homeless Emergency Response package and the rental moratorium was a major setback for those already struggling.

“I suspect [things will be] worse because those measures have unwound. I think we’re back to at least where we started, if not further behind,” Mr Barker said.

A lot of people are caught up in this constant maelstrom of Band-Aid strategies that don’t do a lot to resolve this underlying situation.

More affordable housing was a key recommendation in the Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria report, released in March.

“The proportion of Victorian social housing stock versus total dwellings has dropped from 3.85 per cent in 2010–11 to 3.42 per cent in 2019–20. Victoria has the lowest social housing stock in Australia and is significantly below the national average of 4.5 per cent of total housing stock,” the report said.

Growing pressure and loss of safeguards puts more people on the street
More affordable is housing needed to alleviate homelessness. Picture Jack Jowett

Mr Barker said: “We need massive state investment in housing stock. If there is sufficient housing to meet needs, people can move into long-term housing really quickly.”

It has been proven in other parts of the world that it [long-term housing] is the single most important factor in stabilising things for people.

Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute [AHURI] senior manager of strategic initiative Tamlin Gorter said homelessness would become a re-emerging issue should governments not step in with more permanent services.

“I think that possibly more people were able to access support during the pandemic than would ordinarily be able to,” she said.

Growing pressure and loss of safeguards puts more people on the street
Tamlin Gorter

“It is important to provide support when people first experience homelessness, but unless there is a long-term solution, then the problem is going to keep re-emerging.”

Much more social housing is needed

In November 2020, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a new $5.3 billion Big Housing Build to construct more than 12,000 new homes throughout metro and regional Victoria.

Mr Barker said while it was a positive step forward, it still wasn’t enough.

“The Big Housing Build is the single most positive strategy I’ve seen in the almost 10 years I’ve worked in the sector,” he said.

But you need to build shitloads of public housing, so you’re not just passing people into a rooming house and putting them on a waiting list with no endpoint.

At the height of the pandemic and lockdowns, the Victorian Government created a hotel accommodation program to house homeless people.

Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Mental Health at Swinburne University Dr Eric Tan said the response during the pandemic showed the government always had the ability to help.

“We’re starting to see, from the pandemic, that governments can do it if they want to, when they need to and they’re not busy making excuses,” he said.

‘We need a youth homelessness strategy’

StreetSmart founder Chris Black said the program wasn’t smooth sailing for homeless youth.

“There was conflict and bullying occurring with young homeless people and older generations mixing in close quarters,” she said.   

Ms Black said many young people ended back out on the streets or couch-surfing as a result. “Homelessness isn’t just about having a roof over your head.”

Growing pressure and loss of safeguards puts more people on the street
Chris Black

This is because many young people are currently couch-surfing—not technically on the streets, but without a secure place to stay. It’s known as “secondary homelessness” and is a large social issue in Melbourne that often goes unaccounted for, she said.

The Centre for Social Impact (CSI) released a study into Covid and found that over 50 youth support organisations in Victoria revealed an 89 per cent increase in demand during the lockdowns.

While the Youth Affairs Council found that “26 per cent of all homeless people in Victoria are aged between 12 and 24”.

A key solution put forth by Ms Black was to construct a national youth homelessness strategy in the wake of Covid-19—this has not been done.

Without access to professional services and their extended network during Covid-19, homeless youth faced further difficulties in areas such as mental health and employment.

“This is predominantly due to caseworkers and therapists being unavailable during the recent lockdowns,” Ms Black said.

She said the shutdown of these key services had led to an increase in isolation for those suffering from domestic abuse and, not surprisingly, youth homelessness.

Several organisations and activists are trying to change this social issue for the better.

The Council to Homeless Persons is advocating for systemic change for youth homelessness and effective new solutions. While the Centre for Social Impact is proposing that more funding for secondary school psychologists and counsellors is needed.