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Homelessness crisis linked to housing affordability

A homeless woman sits on a street corner in central Brisbane, Friday, June 9, 2017. Source: AAP Image/Dan Peled

The homelessness crisis in Australia is getting worst. At the last census, there were more than 116,000 people with no permanent home in the country. And with no clear national plan to fight homelessness and a lack of affordable housing, there's no sign of things getting better.

Every year, there are more and more homeless people on the streets in Australia. Since 2011, the number of homeless people has grown by 14 per cent.

Dr. Evelyne Tadros is Mission Australia state leader for New South Wales. She paints a bleak picture.

“The homelessness situation in New South Wales and in Australia is quite devastating. There are still in Australia 116 427 people classified as being homeless, and of those, 44% are from a country of birth other than Australia. So it's still quite a serious issue we're facing."

There are a few reasons why the homelessness numbers are rising around the country, but the lack of affordable housing is the most obvious one.

“The rent prices continue to rise. People have got low income and they can't afford some of the rent increases we're seeing. We notice that people newly arrived to Australia are often living in overcrowded conditions. But ultimately it comes down to the lack of social and affordable housing."

Jenny Smith is the CEO of the Council to Homeless Persons and the Chair of Homelessness Australia.

She explains that Australia doesn't have a national plan to tackle housing affordability.

“We don't have any plan for the government to intervene to make sure that there is housing for people on lower income. We expect the market to take care of it, but we've just had 30 to 40 years of unparalleled prosperity in our country and the market hasn't taken care of it. Governments have gotten out of the business of providing social housing and until they get back in the business of doing that, we will see homelessness continue to increase, and to increase more quickly."

She says it's important for people to understand that issues like family violence and housing affordability cause homelessness, not individual vulnerabilities.

“I think it's very unfortunate that in our community, our vision of homelessness is about individual vulnerabilities, whether people are migrants or are struggling with a disability like a mental health problem or an addiction. This isn't about individuals. If you're poor in our community, it's impossible to see how you can afford housing in our current housing market and the chance of you becoming homeless is very high. This is not about people trying harder, there are just not anywhere near the number of homes that we need at the more affordable end of the market."

When we look at the numbers, we can see that migrants are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

Evelyne Tadros says that on top of having trouble finding affordable housing, they face additional challenges.

“People from linguistically diverse communities and people from a refugee background often face disconnection from family, school, community, and there are major precursors to homelessness for young refugees, for instance. As well, they can face additional stresses when settling in Australia, including adjustment to language, culture and education. Some of them might have a lack of understanding of tenancy rights and risk exploitation by landlords. We do know that the stats indicate refugees have lower labour force participation than other immigrant groups due to the lack of recognised qualification and work experience."

If you are on the brink of homeless or are already homeless, there are ways to get help.

Organisations can help you negotiate with your landlord, find emergency housing and provide a warm meal.

Each state will have its own system.

Evelyne Tadros, who is based in New South Wales, explains how to reach support services there.

“We've got an arm called the Mission Australia Housing that delivers affordable and social housing. If people need to access our services, they can call 1800 888 868. There's also a phone number that is the Link2Home, which provides a whole range of services inclusive in Mission Australia services and non-Mission Australia services. Their contact number is 1800 152 152. There's also services available for women escaping domestic and family violence, we have the 1800 Respect number, their number is 1800 737 732."

Jenny Smith tells us where to turn to if you live in Victoria.

“In Victoria, there's a 1800 number, 1800 825 955, which you can call if you're at risk of homelessness and again, if you're escaping family violence, there's a service called Safe Steps, 1800 015 188 that you can also call at any time. But the arrangements are different in each state, and I think it's really usual that the local migrant support services know who their homelessness support providers are."

If you'd prefer speaking in a language other than English, Evelyne Tadros says that bilingual workers and interpreters are available.

“All our services on the ground, depending on which area the service is provided in, we provide bilingual workers and we also have access to the Translating and Interpreting Service. For Mission Australia, depending on the community we're in, we try to bring in bilingual workers rather than the interpreting and translating service."

If you're lucky enough to have a roof over your head, Jenny Smith says that the first thing you can do to help is to be kind.

“The most important thing is that people are kind to people experiencing difficulties, and within that kindness, do what they can within their resources. The other really important thing that people need to do is to ask the question, every time they go to a federal, state or local election is ' Does the party I'm voting for have a housing and homelessness policy?'. Do the work to make sure the party they want to vote for has that policy or vote for the party that does have that policy.

To find out about homelessness services around Australia, visit homelessnessaustralia.org.au and click on 'How to get help?' to find a list of services for each state.

The second series of Filthy Rich and Homeless aired over three nights – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 August on SBS from 8.30pm. It is now available on SBS On Demand.

Filthy Rich & Homeless is an honest and compassionate exploration of what it’s like to be homeless in Australia today as it shines a light on a part of our society often overlooked and ignored.