DIY housing: a squat to call home

Housing prices, family violence and mental health issues are driving many young Melburnians to squatting and homelessness. Peter Matthews reports.

A formerly homeless local has said that several hundred Preston youths might be resorting to squatting as housing prices rise and areas of public housing land remain abandoned.

Jason*, 23, said that squats – buildings which are unlawfully occupied, often by homeless people – were common in the area.

Jason spent months moving in and out of local buildings with homeless youths. Police frequently moved them on under threat of arrest.

There are 22,000 homeless people in Melbourne. The number increased by 25 per cent last year, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which blames family violence and housing prices. Half are under 25 years old.

Squatting creates several hazards, Jason said, although the shelter minimises risks such as assault and robbery. Squats often contain asbestos, faulty wiring and open fires.

There is also deliberate destruction. A condemned Gold Coast squat was set ablaze on August 9, reported.

Jason said this burning is bad and good. While it showed the fire hazard of squatting, the owner no longer had to demolish the building.

He said the youth crisis was not one of housing but mental health issues and apathy. Also, society had not prepared his generation for living.

Jason saw brooding and pessimism in the squats, particularly by First Nations people.

Preston has been home to abandoned buildings, such as the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, which the Kennett government defunded in 1998. The site is now Bell City accommodation

*name has been changed for privacy