Australia

'I'm sleeping in my car': These are the victims of Hobart's housing affordability crisis

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A domestic violence survivor. A cancer patient. A mother-of-two. SBS News speaks to those struggling with housing and homelessness in Tasmania's capital city.

Domestic violence survivor Carol hopes to one day be reunited with her daughter. In the meantime, she’s sleeping rough in a car during the Tasmanian winter.

Jacqui is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She's struggling to find somewhere that will allow a single woman over 50 to live in.

Mother-of-two Donna Richardson says she’s tired of lugging her kids around from shelter to shelter, not knowing what the future holds for them.

Each woman is fed up with what they see as government inaction on the housing and homelessness crisis in Hobart. 

Homeless people in Hobart set up tents
Homeless people in Hobart set up tents.
The Feed

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie has demanded more for her state from the federal government, and Hobart City Council is also working with charities and other groups to figure out ways to fix the mess. But for the homeless, help can't come soon enough.

Jacqui, 54, living in a friend's shack: 'It's been a really hard year'

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Before she moved to Tasmania, 54-year-old Jacqui would pass by those sleeping on the streets in her former home town of Bendigo in Victoria - where she had a home and a small business - greeting the homeless as she walked her dog.

Fast forward to today, and she finds herself homeless in Hobart.

She has got three university degrees and worked as a Chinese medicine practitioner, but in December an ovarian cancer diagnosis changed everything.

Unable to work while she underwent chemotherapy, and unable to afford the rent with the $555 fortnightly Newstart payment - Jacqui moved to Tasmania to live in a friend's shack.

"It’s been a really hard year", she tells SBS News. "It’s a real struggle to try and manage everything."

Jacqui is looking for a place that will accommodate a single woman with a dog. But with a steep hike in rental prices in Tasmania, she says her prospects for housing are limited. 

"I’m lucky to have a friend’s shack to go to for the next two months, but then I’m not sure what I’m doing because I probably won’t have any hair yet and so I don’t know about how well I’ll be at getting a job," she says.

"I don’t know if there are many jobs for bald, 54-year-old women."

Carol, sleeping in her car: 'We're just hoping we don't drown'

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Carol fled Victoria to escape a violent partner with the help of a domestic violence assistance group. But she didn't get the fresh start she hoped for in Tasmania.

Without any family nor social support, she has found herself sleeping in a car for the past six months.

"There’s only so many couches I can surf," she tells SBS News, adding she has exhausted the goodwill of friends who have so far been able to help.

She sees a social worker monthly for public housing support but says she gets told the same every time: "Nothing yet, nothing as yet". 

She is worried that the next time the support worker calls, she could be dropped off the waiting list if she can't pick up the phone in time.

As Carol explains, those managing homelessness don't often have easy access to phone charging ports and have to wait for their fortnightly Newstart payments to get phone credit.

"It is so difficult to be contactable by people," she says. 

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The Feed: Hobart’s Homeless
The Feed: Hobart’s Homeless

Besides a roof over her head, all Carol wants is to be reunited with her 18-year-old daughter who she has lost touch with. But it comes down to her finding a home first.

"We're just treading water constantly and hoping like hell we don't drown," she says.

Donna, 44, moving between women's shelters: 'Crisis is worst it's ever been'

for the homeless in Hobart, help can’t come soon enough.
For the homeless in Hobart, help can’t come soon enough.
The Feed

Donna, 44, is moving between women’s shelters with her toddler and 12-year-old daughter in tow, after a period of couch-surfing.

But she considers herself one of the lucky ones to have a roof over her head – albeit temporarily - because the competition for places is so fierce.

"The shelter says they get 30 calls a day," she says.

Travelling with two kids from shelter to shelter is taking its toll, she admits.

"It gets tiring and it’s just hard not knowing.

"The two-year-old doesn’t know any better but my 12-year-old - I think she just can't wait to get a place to call home."

Donna says five years ago it was much easier to find a place to rent in Hobart, but the housing situation has become "crazy".

"We never had that problem before. It's the worst it's ever been."

'I need to get these kids off the street'

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie is confident the federal government will honour an agreement to waive the state's $158 million social housing debt so more social housing stock is established.

The crossbench senator brought the state's housing crisis to recent national attention after demanding the waiver in exchange for her vote on the government's tax cuts.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie says the situation has become untenable.
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie says the situation has become untenable.
SBS News

"I am expecting - I'm hoping - that the debt will be completely wiped so we get the extra $15 million a year," she told SBS News, adding there were 'technicalities' to be worked out in the next month over the agreement.

"Basically we'll get our interest back instead of sending that back to the government, so it'll give us an extra $15 million every year. Every cent of that must go to affordable housing."

Senator Lambie says the situation in her home state has become untenable. People are living out of tents; children are sleeping in cars, she explains. 

"I need to get those kids off the streets with their families," Senator Lambie says.

"When you've got kids that you've got to fend for, I tell you what, that pressure that is on you as a parent; it just about drives you insane."

Solutions can't come quick enough

Last week, an alliance of housing groups met with the Hobart City Council to discuss what to do about the crisis.

Hobart Mayor Anna Reynolds tells SBS News a range of initiatives were discussed, including progressing a program to build quick, shipping container-style demountables - an initiative "within weeks and months" away.

Hobart Mayor Anna Reynolds speaks to the media on February 24, 2019.
Hobart Mayor Anna Reynolds speaks to the media on February 24, 2019.
AAP

Expanding an existing drop-in centre for the homeless to have showers to a 24-hour service was also talked about, as was a 'sleep bus' from a mainland charity, and the establishment of a 'code blue' response system where a major temperature drop triggers the state government into opening emergency shelters.

Another was a register of beds so any available empty bed could be taken advantage of.

"I'm reasonably positive but it's early days and there is a lot more that needs to happen," Ms Reynolds said.

Jacqui, who is living in her friend's shack, is so fed up with the lack of available and affordable housing she is taking the matter into her own hands.

When she is not getting treatment for cancer or looking for a home, she is planning to set up a not-for-profit aimed at providing crisis accommodation for single women over 50, who she says are not prioritised in a public housing system focused on families.

She wants to set up liveable shipping containers that can be placed in a friend's backyard or council approved areas.

"I’m doing something that I think is very worthwhile," she says.

"There’s absolutely no money being spent on housing." 

Readers seeking crisis support can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For support with domestic violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

Additional reporting: Michelle Rimmer

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