• You might have flee an abusive relationship, or you lost shifts at work the same week your rent went up and you had to move. Now your homeless: what do you do? (Tetra images RF)
It really could happen to you. But do you have the skills and knowledge needed to make it through life without a permanent home?
By
Nicola Heath

29 May 2017 - 10:14 AM  UPDATED 23 Jun 2017 - 7:06 PM

It often feels like something that happens to someone else, but “many of us are only one or two major life events away from homelessness,” says Catherine Yeomans, CEO of Mission Australia.

You might have fled your home to escape an abusive relationship, or you lost shifts at work the same week your rent went up and you had to move. Now you’re homeless. What do you do next?

Just six per cent of homeless people sleep rough. Many others couch surf, or live in severely overcrowded dwellings, their car, someone’s garage, boarding houses, or crisis accommodation – all forms of homelessness. 

If you’re homeless, reach out for help, Yeomans urges. “Don't be embarrassed, don't be ashamed. There are support services that can assist people who find themselves in this situation,” she says.

In 2015-16, homelessness services assisted 279,000 people across Australia, or one in 85 of the population. Of those, six in 10 were female, one in four was Indigenous and one in 10 had a disability.

You might have fled your home to escape an abusive relationship, or you lost shifts at work the same week your rent went up and you had to move. Now you’re homeless. What do you do next?

How would you cope?

Somewhere to sleep is probably your most pressing need when you’re homeless. In New South Wales, the FACS Housing Services Link2home Homelessness Information Line (1800 152 152) offers urgent help for people who need temporary accommodation at short notice.

A Link2Home representative takes first-time callers through a 20-minute assessment to ensure they are matched with the most appropriate service. Interpreters are offered for people who have limited English and Indigenous callers can speak to an Aboriginal officer. The FACS worker will try to find you accommodation. If no place is available, you will be given temporary accommodation in a low-cost hotel – usually two to three nights – and asked to report to your local Housing NSW office to meet with a caseworker and establish a plan.

Link2home callers may be referred to other support services as needed, and access items like grocery vouchers, nappies, formula, a travel card or, in the case of family violence victims, a new phone.

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Another way to find help in your local area is to use Ask Izzy, an online search tool that allows users to search anonymously for services nearby in categories including housing, food, everyday things, health, support and counselling, technology and more. Over 350,000 services are listed on its database.

Developed by Infoxchange in partnership with Google, realestate.com.au and News Corp Australia, Ask Izzy is free to use on the Telstra network. Smartphone ownership among homeless people is nearly 80 per cent, and over 250,000 searches have been made since the tool launched at the start of 2016. 

Mental illness is more likely to be the result of homelessness rather than its primary cause, due to its extraordinarily stressful nature.

Also listed on Ask Izzy’s database are mental health services. Mental illness is more likely to be the result of homelessness rather than its primary cause, due to its extraordinarily stressful nature.

“People don't know what is going to happen to them next,” says Yeomans. “Are they going to find somewhere safe to sleep that night? Are they going to be able to have food to eat? What is going to be the future for that person? That, in and of itself, creates a high degree of anxiety.”

Another thing you’ll have to contend with if you’re homeless is negative social attitudes among the wider community. “Unfortunately, we see that there can sometimes be a lot of judgement and a lot of assumptions made as to why somebody is homeless.

“Sometimes people think people choose to be homeless. That's not our experience, and we work right across the country and we've been around for 155 years. We know that people are not choosing homelessness as a lifestyle choice,” says Yeomans. “That's not a reasonable assumption to make.”

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Others assume that people are homeless because they are alcoholics and drug addicts. Again, that’s not the case, says Yeomans.

“The statistics don't bear that out because we know so many are women and children fleeing family and domestic violence. We know they are, unfortunately, young people exiting the out-of-home care system. We know that they are older women who are without financial resources and are finding themselves homeless later in life.”

If you are suffering rental stress or fear that you may become homeless, Yeomans says it’s important to ask for help before you lose your accommodation. “Sometimes financial counselling or…other support might help alleviate the issue that has brought them to a crisis point.”

Others assume that people are homeless because they are alcoholics and drug addicts. Again, that’s not the case, says Yeomans.

One example of effective early intervention is the Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative (HASI), a collaboration between NSW Health, Housing NSW and NGOs including Mission Australia. HASI helps people with mental health problems secure stable housing. “Their landlord might be flagging that the tenancy is at risk for a range of different reasons, and we are able to work alongside the tenant...so that they actually maintain their tenancy in the longer term,” Yeomans says.

Hindering the long-term goal of finding people safe, secure and affordable accommodation is the sector’s lack of funding. “Sometimes we won't be able to source that longer-term housing solution for people because there are simply not enough properties available,” says Yeomans, who is nevertheless pleased that the federal government committed to ongoing funding for homelessness services in the 2017-18 budget.

“We think more still needs to be done to address the fact that so many people are living in rental stress,” she says. “Too high a proportion of their income is…paid on rent, and it's putting people under financial stress and increasing the risk of homelessness. If not now, potentially in the future.”

Love the story? Follow the author on Twitter: @nicoheath or Instagram: @nicola_heath

If this article has raised issues for you and you would like to talk to someone, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website by clicking here. For information about services from St Vincent De Paul, click here or for services offered by Salvation Army, click here. 


'Filthy Rich and Homeless', a new three-part documentary series, will explore the experience of homelessness when it debuts on SBS on Tuesday 27, Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 June at 8.30pm. Each show will be available to view on SBS On Demand after broadcast.

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