On any given night in Australia 1 in 200 people are homeless. But when it comes to homelessness, many people think of beggars living on the street. For many people, however, the reality is often very different.
Only 6% of Australia’s homeless citizens are sleeping rough or living in tents or improvised dwellings. For most people experiencing homelessness, the situation is characterised by unstable and unaffordable accommodation rather than sleeping rough. They are either couch surfing or living in supported accommodation, boarding houses or some other form of severely overcrowded dwelling. These people are the invisible homeless. And one local family understands this harsh reality only too well.
Frances has supported her son Joel (not their real names or image) since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his twenties. Joel’s condition led to homeless and several years living in dangerous share houses. However, 13 years ago Joel was assisted into public housing. Since then he has had far fewer hospital admissions and has been generally less ill. As Frances puts it “Stable housing is so important for someone with mental illness and has really helped him”.
However, recently Joel’s condition worsened and he was facing eviction and homelessness due to rent arrears. The local police referred Frances to Housing Justice and one of our Advocacy Support Workers helped Joel to avoid eviction.
“I find it more difficult to advocate as a parent these days” said Frances. “The worker didn’t just assist with the funding and VCAT, but I also felt heard; she really listened. Over the past few months I have been so grateful that Joel still has his home. Things seem to be going well and he’s in a better place.”
Frances’ comments came on the eve of Homelessness Week (1-7 August), which raises awareness of people experiencing homelessness and the challenges they face. It is held each year in the first week of August, which is also usually the coldest time of the year.
The theme for Homelessness Week 2016 is Homelessness Counts (#HomelessnessCounts). Across Australia, agencies like Housing Justice are encouraging everyone to recognise that people like Joel who are experiencing homelessness are a valuable part of our society who deserve our support.
Homelessness Week also comes as Victoria finds itself dealing with a 30% increase in demand for frontline homeless services over the past three years. Services like Housing Justice are struggling to meet the need. Our role is to help vulnerable people like Joel to break the homelessness cycle and to reduce the impact of homelessness on family members like Frances. Each year we help hundreds of tenants to avoid eviction or to break a lease due to family violence or financial hardship. But in the current climate this is becoming increasingly difficult. Combined with diminishing local options for crisis accommodation, we are looking at the perfect homelessness storm.
This year Homelessness Week also precedes Census night (9 August), which presents the nation with the opportunity to capture data that demonstrates the need for adequate homelessness funding and affordable housing. In 2015 the Commonwealth extended the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) by $230 million. But this commitment ends in June 2017. The NPAH funds most of Australia’s frontline homelessness and housing services, including Housing Justice. Without a commitment to increased and extended funding, we fear we will find ourselves unable to help others like Frances and Joel from falling through the cracks.
A change.org petition by state and federal peaks calls on the Federal Government to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which expires next year.