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Five ways to turn the tide on homelessness

Right now in Victoria there are almost 25,000 people who are homeless on any given night, and the number is increasing all the time. Kate Colvin from Council to Homeless Persons has five budget priorities with which the State Government can help turn this around.

The main problem driving the increase in homelessness is the lack of housing that people can afford. Rents, particularly at the cheaper end of the market, have been rising fast, outstripping growth in people’s wages.

That’s why we put the need for more social housing at the top of our list of five budget priorities, with a call for 3,000 new public and community-owned homes each year to alleviate the pressure on social housing waiting lists and change people’s lives.

This is more than Labor committed to prior to the election, with the announcement of 1,000 new public housing properties over the next three years.

Our second ask relates to women and children escaping family violence. The Private Rental Assistance Program (PRAP) uses the private rental market to end homelessness, by helping tenants who are at risk of losing their private rental tenancy, or rapidly re-homing those who need some help to quickly gain a new tenancy. It was expanded in response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and shown to be highly effective, but it is only funded to June 2019.

Around 4,000 people a year are helped by PRAP, many of them victim-survivors of family violence. If the State Government doesn’t commit to re-funding the program, it will put already-vulnerable women and children at even greater risk, because they will have to choose between going homeless or returning to their abusers.

Young people are the focus of our third ask. They account for nearly one fifth of those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Over 20,000 young people aged 15–24 sought support for homelessness in 2017–18.

In this year’s State Budget we are calling on the Government to establish and roll out a comprehensive housing and support program for young people. Housing young people isn’t as simple as putting a roof over their heads – they also need appropriate support and, where possible, to be housed near family or support networks.

Many Victorians squeezed out of the rental market end up in rooming houses, and can become trapped cycling in and out of rough sleeping and rooming house accommodation. A staggering 62 per cent of residents have health issues, 65 per cent are experiencing family breakdown or family violence and 62 per cent have substance use issues. Many rooming houses are unregistered, violent and are hugely damaging environments for the health and wellbeing of residents. Providing some support to these residents is our fourth ask.

Victoria needs specialist outreach workers for rooming houses to support tenants and link them to health and other support services. Several pilot programs trialling specialist outreach services have shown dramatic improvements in wellbeing, in areas including transitioning to private rental accommodation, re-engagement with physical and mental healthcare, job-hunting, children’s support programs and improved nutrition.

The fifth and final way in which the Victorian Government can make real and substantial improvements to the lives of people experiencing or at risk of homelessness is to better fund emergency housing options. While the key to easing homelessness is in the availability of long-term social housing, the reality is that until the shortfall is plugged, crisis accommodation will be a necessity in order to keep Victorians safe.

The Victorian Government must commit resources to enable more flexible funding of short-term accommodation, along with more staff to assess and respond to the growing number of people needing this support.

Research has shown that voters are worried about homelessness, and understand that social housing is a solution that works. The Victorian Government has an opportunity to make our state a leader by ensuring all Victorians have a decent, affordable home.  Changing people’s lives and giving them safety and dignity is a choice. We hope that the Government makes the right choice on May 27.

Budget priorities in short:

  • Build more social housing
  • Re-fund the Private Rental Assistance Program (PRAP)
  • Roll out a comprehensive housing and support program for young people
  • Provide specialist outreach workers for rooming houses
  • Fund emergency housing options.