This opinion piece appears in Council to Homeless Person’s Parity magazine, May 2023, Volume 36 – Issue 3, page 38.
This issue of Parity, looking at the role of community housing in responding to homelessness and housing stress in regional, rural and remote Australia, speaks to the unique challenges faced by the seven million people living outside of our major capital cities. As a community housing provider that offers housing and homelessness support throughout regional and metropolitan Victoria, we are privileged to be trusted with the stories of people that seek our help during what is typically a traumatic and difficult time.
Our staff are incredibly dedicated and passionate about providing quality support, but right now the outrageous reality for our sector is that we are turning away more people and we cannot offer housing to the people we are funded to support, because there simply is not enough housing.
It is abhorrent to me that we are now seeing more people who have until now never needed this kind of support – more Victorians who have jobs but simply cannot find a place to live that they can afford on top of the relentless cost of living pressures. People who are forced to make decisions about whether to eat or heat their homes in order to maintain a rental. And these are in addition to our most vulnerable people experiencing significant crisis who need both housing and wrap around supports.
The status quo is the least safe option for the communities we serve. We absolutely need to do more and do it better to meet the complex and nuanced needs of people that live in regional and rural Australia. But there are barriers to doing this: the competitive nature of securing funding in our sector reduces what we can achieve as we all make a grab for the confetti funding that is available. We do not have enough basic foundational services that connect people with the holistic support essential for them to thrive. We need more targeted, trauma informed service design. When we can meet housing or health needs, it’s rarely in tandem, leading to poor outcomes in the long-term and prolonging the recurrence of homelessness and crisis.
The solution to homelessness and housing stress being experienced by so many needs to be beyond the political cycle. The funding needs to be more, and it needs to be expediated because we’re deep in a crisis with no tangible solutions – yet.
The approach proposed by Federal Housing and Homelessness Minister Julie Collins, with five instruments of funding and housing reform, is a critical starting point and must be legislated to support communities in dire need. However, if we are serious about having real impact and addressing the growing waiting lists, the funding needs to respond to decades of underinvestment plus projected future need.
If housing supply is the ultimate goal, we also need to remove the many distractions that delay or prevent building what is needed otherwise we will never get anywhere. To this end, local government needs to amend their practices to enable rather than block – if we are all collectively serious about prioritising housing, then our planning processes need to be streamlined and we need to stop re-prosecuting previous decisions and get on with the job. Let’s not let perfect get in the way of good.
Haven Home Safe is proud to sponsor this edition of Parity as it provides a unique opportunity for experts in the sector to amplify the voices of the people living in regional and remote areas of Australia and advocate for real change. Part of that advocacy is calling out that, with a crisis of this scale, it will take all levels of government, all community organisations, developers, investors and everyday Australians to each play their role in ensuring people have access to shelter. Collaborating for collective impact is the only way forward.
Ultimately if we really believe in outcomes, it should not matter who delivers them. In a world where homelessness exists in a country as wealthy as ours, we will always be left wondering why this crisis even had to occur. However, until governments are in a position to be bold and brave and unencumbered by the political cycle, we will continue to advocate for everyone’s right to have a place to call home.
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