For some, today is a reminder that anyone can become homeless, with various agencies (and reality TV) bringing this urgent issue to light. It also marks the end of the financial year, a kind of witching hour for those engaged in financial markets, investing in rental housing, or running Australia’s businesses, large and small.
For seventy-nine intrepid souls, our charity sleep-out on Maroochydore beach was thwarted by early morning drizzle turning into heavier rain.
Some abandoned their posts, leaving sheets of cardboard for others to make shelters with. Others took up the scarce positions under the eaves of the Maroochy Surf Club.
I took refuge in a nearby toilet block, mopping my wet hair with a sweatshirt. I decided I’d done enough, including raising $700+ and headed home in the wee hours. I briefly imagined a truly homeless mother in a similar situation. The two-year-old wants to be carried and the seven-year-old is saying “This is dumb, I wanna sleep.” So they walk 300m in the rain to the 1997 Ford wagon and do as best they can.
The St Vincent De Paul Society homelessness sleep-out raised more money this year ($125,577) with fewer people sleeping out. That’s an impressive result from a regional population of 300,000, (1,500 of whom are homeless).
The 2016 Census homeless tally (105,000 in 2011), won’t be known until 2018. But a 2014 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found that 351,000 Australians had experienced homelessness in the previous 12 months.
There were a few speeches last night before we headed out to a balmy 17 degree Maroochydore evening. Mix FM’s Todd Widdicombe threw gentle barbs at local politicians and did a good job of generating competitive bidding for the charity auction (including a pillow sold to local politician Steve Dickson for $320).
St Vincent De Paul Society tells us most social housing on the Sunshine Coast was built more than 30 years ago. The Coast’s private rental vacancy rate is less than 2% and one-bedroom units are hard to find. A chart of social housing demand shows that 64% of people are looking for accommodation for one person. Developers on the coast tend to build three and four-bedroom homes and two or three-bedroom units. Many units are rented to holiday-makers.
Older people facing a tougher future
This is not a problem unique to the Coast. Pensioners and working parents have been priced out of the rental market in all metropolitan areas across Australia, according to National Shelter’s Rental Affordability Index (RAI), released on May 17.
Chief Executive of COTA Australia (Council on the Ageing) Ian Yate told a conference this week that older Australians were the forgotten faces of the housing crisis. He cited as examples the 70 year old divorcee facing homelessness, the 80 year old with a knee replacement who can’t find appropriate or affordable accommodation, the 68 year old couple retiring, still with a significant mortgage.
“Older Australians are increasingly falling through the cracks in the growing housing affordability and supply challenge,” he said. “A growing number of older Australians need to rent, rather than owning a home outright.
“We are already starting to see rates of home ownership by older Australians decline, and this is forecast to drop even further in the next 10-15 years.”
Anglicare’s annual report into housing affordability shows that welfare recipients and single-person households are the least likely to find appropriate accommodation. Queensland’s stock of social housing is just 3.6%, compared with a national average of 4.5%.
Rents are generally lower on the Sunshine Coast and the weather markedly warmer than the Southern States, even in winter. Little doubt this is why young people take their battered old wagons, surfboards and sleeping bags to the beach.
While many people in crisis use their cars as a refuge between one home and the next, others have developed an on-the-road lifestyle.
I once met a woman in her 50s whose camper van is her home and always on the road, unless she’s visiting family in one state or the other. Recently we met a couple who have a permanent caravan moored in a small town van park. They also have a bigger van for their grey nomad adventures. Safe to say most of their capital is tied up in these depreciating assets
For those who’d rather have a fixed abode, the Queensland Government recently made a ‘better-than-nowt’ commitment to provide 5,500 new social and affordable housing units over the next 10 years. Last year, the Government launched a Better Neighbourhoods initiative in fast-growing Logan City, with an affordable housing target of 3,000 by 2030.
Hoping for Hope Centre II
Family and Kids-Care Foundation established the Hope Centre in 2009, a complex of 19 self-contained units, designed for individuals and small family groups in crisis.
President Tass Augustakis told FOMM the charity is currently considering participating in the Better Neighbourhoods Logan initiative, seeking funding for a second Hope Centre which can accommodate larger family groups.
“The thing that got me going to start the Hope Centre was seeing women sleeping in cars with their kids. It just shouldn’t be happening, but it still is.”
Family and Kids-Care donated the land for the first Hope Centre and raised funding from the Federal Government to build it.
“After reading about the State Government’s affordable housing strategy, I’m organising a meeting to discuss Hope Centre II,” he said.
“We can provide the land, but we need the Government to contribute between $10 million and $12 million to build a four or five-level unit building.”
Cameron Parsell, a researcher with the University of Queensland, last year revealed that it costs governments more to provide services to the homeless than it costs to provide standard accommodation.
He produced ‘compelling and robust’ data in The Conversation which showed that chronically homeless people used state government funded services that cost approximately $48,217 each over a 12-month period. He compared this with another 12-month period in which the chronically homeless were tenants of permanent supportive housing.
“The same people used state government services that cost approximately $35,117 – $13,100 less when securely housed, compared to the services they used when they were chronically homeless.”
Urban studies researcher Emma Power, also writing in The Conversation, says single, older women are among the fastest-growing groups of homeless people in Australia. Yet most are unable to apply for community housing because the sole eligibility criterion is their low-income status.
Sadly, women who are not leaving a violent situation or who do not have a recognised disability will risk homelessness before they qualify for community housing.
The answer is for governments to provide more secure, low-cost social housing and/or increase rent-assistance payments across the board.
But as Power points out, the latter is not ideal. Although it assists renters in the short-term, it effectively subsidises private landlords.
This has been going on for a long time and it is getting worse, despite a lot of work by charitable organisations like St Vinnies. I tucked myself into my cosy bed (early) last night, feeling OK about raising the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent for someone.
But it is a band-aid at best.