Australia

Leaders call for action to tackle Victoria's rising Indigenous homeless numbers

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Indigenous leaders have gathered in Melbourne to find solutions to what they say is a worsening crisis in their communities.

Veteran actor, musician and raconteur Uncle Jack Charles is no stranger to the cycle of drug addiction, prison and homelessness.

"I used to sleep in the bushes around Melbourne University," he said.

"It was a place of sanctuary. I knew the jacks weren't allowed on university property unless they were called for."

Actor Uncle Jack Charles was once homeless.
Actor Uncle Jack Charles was once homeless.
SBS News

Mr Charles' salvation from his addiction came when he was finally able to return from jail to his own accommodation.

"By virtue of the fact that I had a key to my unit, I never went back to sought out a whack because I wasn't homeless," he said. 

Fellow Indigenous Elder Aunty Shirley Firebrace has also felt the pain and isolation of having no place to call home.

"It's a terrible place to be," she said.

"I have lived in hostels, I have lived in cars." 

A conference in Melbourne on Friday sought answers to the homeless crisis in Aboriginal communities.

Aboriginal Housing Victoria chief executive Darren Smith estimated eleven thousand Indigenous Victorians sought help from homeless assistance services every year - a rate ten times that of the rest of the population.

"It's absolutely a problem nationally but what we are seeing now is the data is showing homelessness in Victoria is actually higher than in other state and territory," he said. 

 A person sleeping rough in a doorway.
A person sleeping rough in a doorway.
PA Wire

Advocate Jenny Samms said some contributing factors were expensive housing and rent.

"Plus racism, so they are shut out of the private market," she said.

"And then you have the compounding impact of social issues - family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues."

Ms Samms said at least another five thousand social housing units are needed in the state just to keep pace.

"It's all compounding now .. lack of supply, increased demand ..and people are literally sleeping on the streets and the river banks," she said. 

 

 

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