THE need for more public/social housing – particularly for single people – is a major issue locally.
That’s just one of the many issues discussed at a meeting last week at the Wonthaggi Neighbourhood Centre at Mitchell House to hear from consumers of homelessness services.
Through consumer participation and listening to the lived experiences of those who are currently using homelessness services or who have used them in the past, it’s possible to change public policy, services and service systems, according to Chris McNamara, Gippsland Homelessness Network coordinator.
As part of the lead up to Homelessness Week (August 4-10), the Gippsland Homelessness Network supported by its local members; SalvoCare Eastern, Salvation Army Housing, Quantum Support Services and the Gippsland Children’s Resource Program, convened the meeting to hear the voices of consumers.
Council to Homeless Persons Peer Education Support Program graduate Christine Thirkell spoke about her experiences of homelessness with her daughter until she was finally able to access secure housing.
Bass MP Jordan Crugnale attended the meeting to hear the issues raised by the consumers and has made a commitment to meet with
representatives for further discussion.
The issues raised related to the invisibility of people who are experiencing homelessness in the community.
Although you might not see it, people are sleeping in cars, at the beach in swags and makeshift accommodation.
There is a belief that being homeless is a choice.
No-one chooses to be homeless, it can happen to anyone and does, all it takes are some unfortunate events, say consumers.
Ms McNamara said homelessness can happen to anyone.
“For many Gippslanders, homelessness is just a payday away, add a few unfortunate events like sudden and unexpected job loss, death of a partner, relationship breakdown, injury, illness, eviction and family violence; and life as you know it can be turned on its head.”
She said homelessness can be very unsafe and many people who experience chronic homelessness are vulnerable.
Ms McNamara said it is important to acknowledge the stress and difficulties inherent in becoming and remaining homeless.
There is a stigma related to being homeless; people believe and ask if you have a drug or alcohol problem and assume that you also have mental health problems.
These are issues that can come to the fore after the trauma of homelessness. Because of this misconception, they experience discrimination.
Consumers also expressed their concern about the difficulty of navigating the complex and fragmented service system, often being turned away and sometimes giving up.
There is a very limited supply of private rental properties that are affordable to people on very low incomes such as Newstart and for those that don’t own a vehicle, which is often the case for people on a very low income.
The public transport system needs improvement, consumers say, so that people can access work without the need of owning a vehicle.
The attendees support the national Everybody’s Home campaign that advocates for Victoria to build 3000 social housing properties per year for the next 10 years.
Busting homelessness myths
GIPPSLAND services are challenging some of the myths and misconceptions around homelessness, as part of Homelessness Week (August 4-10).
Myth 1 – Most people who are experiencing homelessness sleep on the streets.
In rural communities, we tend to think homelessness is not an issue because it’s not visible.
Only 7 per cent of people experiencing homelessness are visible; sleeping on the streets (rough sleepers), in parks, bus shelters, abandoned buildings or shop doorways.
The majority of people are hidden from sight, staying with relatives or friends for short periods of time, living in cars, in overcrowded housing or in makeshift dwellings, moving between emergency accommodation, rooming houses and cheap accommodation.
Myth 2 – Most people experiencing homelessness are men.
In 2018-18, approximately 64 per cent of Victorians who sought help from homelessness services were women, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
And 47 per cent were fleeing family violence, while 2 in every 5 were under 25 years old.
Women are less likely to sleep rough due to safety issues and their homelessness is less visible; staying with friends, in emergency accommodation or living in cars.
Myth 3 – All people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts and/or alcoholics.
About 60 per cent of people experiencing homelessness do not have a drug and/or alcohol problem and those that do in most cases start using after they become homeless.
Myth 4 – All people experiencing homelessness have mental health problems.
About a third of people experiencing homelessness have mental health problems. This figure is not much different to the general community. Up to half of these people develop mental health problems due to the trauma of being homeless.
Myth 5 – Most people who are homeless choose to be.
Most people experiencing homelessness are poor through loss of employment, illness, chronic health issues, disability, relationship breakdown, family violence, abuse, trauma and cannot afford alternative accommodation.
In the case of family violence, women leave abusive relationships often with children and nowhere to go. This is not a choice.
Myth 6 – Housing and homelessness services will provide access to housing immediately.
Every day, homelessness services in Australia turn away around 250 people due to a lack of resources. Housing services cannot guarantee automatic access to emergency accommodation, public housing or private rental.
Housing services can assist with referrals to support programs, housing applications, sometimes funding for one or two nights’ accommodation (not long term), private rental assistance (rent in advance) if eligible and advice on navigating the system.