More than 8,000 Australian’s are sleeping rough every night. Low funding of crisis centres across the country and state mean there are limited beds in community shelters, who are faced with turning away the increasing number of young people and kids. The Salvation Army, spread across St Kilda, Melbourne CBD and surrounding inner west suburbs are all at breaking point. Greg, a representative from Flagstaff Crisis Centre in West Melbourne, says that ‘at any stage, the centre’s are always full and at capacity, currently only able to house 64 people at one time’.
There’s not enough being done to support Australia’s most vulnerable, and both the federal and local governments have been handballing responsibility to religious organisations and charities to pick up the pieces for far too long.
Norman Vella, a youth services social worker, supports young people with their Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) housing placements. Working out of Broadford, a working-class regional suburb 50kms north of Melbourne, Vella deals with the ongoing issues within the public housing system. He says that the ‘demands and the waiting lists are indefinite’. The Victorian Public Tenants Association (VTPA), through its Home for All campaign, states that over 82,000 Victorians (including almost 25,000 children) are waiting for social housing. Despite our state’s population growth, we have the same number of public housing properties today as 20 years ago.
The VPTA campaign site also states ‘In 2016-17 alone, 123 new public housing properties were constructed and 106 were sold off – meaning only a net gain of 17 new homes in a year. Inevitably, this is creating record levels of homelessness. On any given night, almost 25,000 Victorians are homeless and sleeping rough’. This shows an absurd lack of support for Victorians after two consecutive years of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Although parents with young children who are currently sleeping rough or in crisis accommodation are prioritised, Housing Victoria requires applicants for social housing to meet strict eligibility criteria.
The criteria outlined by Housing Victoria is limiting and is confined to an eligible group of people who may apply for prioritisation housing. This includes people who are unable to live independently or require assistance and must fall under one of the following eligibility descriptors: be under the care of The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a person experiencing a diagnosed mental health condition and children under 16 years of age.
Vella suggests though, that the priority access is not a guarantee of support, and the waitlists can still mean ‘months or years of waiting’.
Finding a safe place to sleep in Melbourne is often temporary and only a short-term solution. The housing support many shelters and venues offer only covers 24 hours on average, and the 28-day maximum for short term housing is mostly unattainable. Vella points out that the wait times and limited availability of housing means it’s an on-going struggle for many.
Vella says ‘the current housing crisis in Victoria forces people into inappropriate housing accommodation (rooming houses, shared accommodation) that places people at risk of mental and physical harm. The wait time for a government funded property is generally indefinite, for most people’.
With the current waitlists for public housing in Australia sitting at more than 10 years, this is leading many people, who are begging for support and assistance from the government, to be forced into vulnerable situations. Vella mentions that there are criteria variables that influence wait times, however, he points out that even people who meet the prioritisation criteria ‘often are on the wait lists – with available support very limited and a large number of people fall through the cracks.’
Vella says ‘we need more housing options, this also includes the costs of general housing, the number of properties available to the public and crisis accommodation options. The government needs to consider how to support the public in purchasing their own house, as the cost of housing is now generally out of reach of most Victorians. This then forces people into rental accommodation, which is also hard for most people to afford, which then forces people into Office of Housing properties’.
Reyna Vincent from Melbourne works as a youth drug and alcohol social worker, based in Melbourne’s west. Vincent is a community counsellor, providing interventions for young people who are at risk of homelessness or who are homeless and living in crisis accommodation and seeking housing services.
Vincent says that ‘clients with young children have priority access to services, however immediate crisis accommodation (such as crisis accommodation boarding etc) is not always suitable for young children and families’.
Most of the people that seek services from Vincent out west are primarily aged between 12-25 years and are from culturally diverse backgrounds. Vincent says there ‘are gaps in funding and inconsistency in service delivery due to services being based on area. This disregards that for some clients the nature of their existence is quiet transient, especially when they are homeless and couch surfing’.
She urges that more needs to be done, and that removing catchment-based care would allow people to access more services as they could move freely between areas – something they may be used to doing if they have slept rough or couch-surfed for some time.
Vincent suggests that the Victorian State Government needs to be broader with its structural changes to support people experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of homelessness; ‘Holistic supports need to be provided as there are often many complex underlying issues for people in these situations. Better funded mental health services that don’t have wait lists of nearly a year, more affordable housing, lower cost of living’.
Ultimately, young people are being forced into homelessness and vulnerable situations from feeling unsafe in their home and having nowhere else to go. Crisis centres and shelters may be the only option for a lot of young people, but they’re currently full to the brim. And this is not about giving charities more money, this is about properly funding a desperately needed sector within the welfare and housing systems. The Victorian Government needs to address over-flowing capacity housing crisis and get people off the streets and into safe, secure homes. Everyone deserves safety and respect.