The answer to homelessness is not just a roof

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HOMELESSNESS Week, an annual awareness-raising series of events, is held the first week of August highlighting the over 105,000 Australians who are homeless on any given night.

On Monday, 2 August, Homelessness Australia, the country’s national peak body for homelessness, invited the Federal Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Michael Sukkar, to launch the 2021 week, which the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas hosted.

Safe Place Advocacy’s Mary-Faeth Chenery, vice-president of a group of community citizens aspiring to influence positive social and affordable housing changes in Hepburn Shire, said they did not have a special event or acknowledged the [Homelessness] week.

“We are so focused on making progress on the local issues that we just kept on doing the basic work,” she said.

“[Our President] David Hall, for example, saw the [Daylesford] real estate agents about the maths of getting some homeowners to consider long term rental over BnB accommodation.”

A housing gap analysis commissioned by the group in March 2020 reported 1,944 people on the Central Highlands Social Housing waiting list, which equates to approximately 159 people on the Hepburn Shire list.

Foothills Community Care CEO Steve Barrington was the MC and first presenter at the Yarra Ranges Housing Action Group’s Homelessness Week launch on Monday.

Foothills is a not-for-profit grassroots Christian organisation that walks alongside those who need a safe place to connect in the Dandenong Ranges and surrounding areas.

Mr Barrington said the week is a welcome initiative because it brings the homelessness issue into the spotlight, but it could be seen to be preaching to the converted.

“However, it is important to celebrate this week as it highlights the need for empathy and understanding throughout the community,” he said.

Since the start of Covid, Foothills has noticed the number of rough sleepers in the area has changed very little.

“Government programs to house people in motels was a temporary fix,” Mr Barrington said.

“The upside was getting people off the streets with an ability to isolate, but the downside was after rehousing, they received very little support, so it was like putting them into ghettos.”

Mr Barrington said, on the other hand, the amount of people experiencing financial crisis and at the risk of homelessness has gone through the roof.

“We see a lot of people living from paycheck to paycheck and are a week or two away from losing their home.”

“There is also an increase in single women, some of whom have experienced domestic violence, who have been on the street or couch surfing.”

The community meals program provided by Foothills helps stabilise these women by offering peer group support and a sense of connection which in turn can build resilience and improve their self-esteem and self-worth.

In 2020 Foothills prepared 9000 meals; this year, the number will be around 55,000.

Yarra Ranges Council Cr Cathrine Burnett-Wake, second speaker at the event, described a launch as typically a celebratory event, sometimes at the end of a project or the beginning of a program a long time in the making.

“Launching Homelessness Week has a bittersweet feeling to it,” Cr Burnett-Wake said.

“The sweetness, of course, is knowing we have so many people in our community passionate about reducing homelessness.”

“The bitterness is knowing that efforts to do this aren’t always made a priority and that there is so much work that needs to be done, whether it’s advocacy and housing action from Government, or pushing back on stigma in the community.”

Yarra Ranges Council collaborates with other municipalities to advocate for more social housing, increased funding for homelessness support and more holistic services accessible by the community.

Local service providers and agencies such as Foothills Community Care, Anchor, Uniting, Holy Fools, the Salvation Army, and Stable One also care for and support people in this space.

“There’s not much a community can’t do when it bands together,” she said.

“The tireless work of those who support our vulnerable community members never goes un-noticed or unappreciated; both from the people who benefit from it, plus us here at Council, who know the incredible amount of time, effort and compassion you pour into what you do.”

Homelessness Australia provides systemic advocacy for the homelessness sector.

They don’t provide direct accommodation or client services, but they work with an extensive network of organisations to provide a unified voice to prevent and respond to homelessness.

The Federal Government previously funded Homelessness Australia. Since December 2014, it has operated voluntarily and has no paid staff.

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Carol Saffer

Carol Saffer is an award-winning journalist enthusiastic about creating copy that engages audiences. She is curious by nature, possesses a growth mindset and thrives on new and unusual challenges. Carol has experience as a reporter for various regional Victorian newspapers and writing for Business Day in The Age. Her previous career was in the fashion industry, and she holds post-graduate degrees in business and journalism.

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