HOMELESSNESS is often misunderstood as a circumstance driven by choice.
However, house affordability and a rising demand are forcing many Wimmera people to live without a home.
Homelessness Week has been a timely reminder that all community sectors have a role to play to ensure everybody has a home.
During the 2016-17 financial year, one in every 56 people in the state accessed some form of homelessness support service.
In the last financial year, Uniting Wimmera had more than 1237 instances of families and individuals seeking homelessness support services.
Uniting Wimmera’s client engagement and childFIRST manager Josh Koenig said the numbers continued to highlight the reality that there was a lack of housing access and affordability.
Mr Koenig said rising housing costs were putting pressure on household budgets.
He said people were forced to cut back on essentials such as food and energy, and educational and sporting opportunities for their children.
“Growing pressure on housing affordability will continue to force increasing numbers of Victorians into homelessness,” he said.
“As an organisation which supports people experiencing homelessness and rental stress, through our housing programs and emergency relief, we know that secure housing is an essential pre-condition for implementing positive change in other areas of their lives.”
Mr Koenig said homelessness had detrimental effects on a person’s ability to live life to the fullest and improve their circumstances in the near future.
“Everyday, we are seeing the impacts of a broken housing system,” he said. “Our services are supporting families and people, both young and old, who have reached crisis point. They are at risk, living in extremely overcrowded circumstances, couch surfing or on the street.”
What is does being homeless mean?
Wimmera and Grampians Accommodation Network representative Katrina Mackley said homelessness was a word that was attached to the preconceived idea that a person is living on the street.
While this can be the reality for some, she said there were a number of ways people experience homelessness.
Ms Mackley said the living arrangements for a homeless people could include extended stays at motels, hotels or caravan parks and camping along waterways or other public locations. She said it could also include couch surfing, staying in transitional housing or crisis accommodation properties.
Growing pressure on housing affordability will continue to force increasing numbers of Victorians into homelessnessJosh Koenig
She said people have formed their own perceptions about homeless people, which needed to change.
“One of the most common misconceptions is that homelessness is due to that person or family’s poor life choices, which has led them to be in that situation,” she said.
“In fact there are a number of factors that can lead to a person or family to experience homelessness.”
Salvos Connect Western regional manager Lindsay Stow reaffirmed that homelessness was about not having a place to call home.
“It is about not having a home and that can be because they are sleeping on the street – sleeping rough or living in their cars,” he said.
“But, it also encompasses people who are staying in emergency accommodation or temporarily staying with family or friends where they have to move on because they have out stayed their welcome.
“They might have a roof over their head while living at a caravan park, but they have not got access to personal space and need to share facilities like bathrooms. So, there is no real sense of home.”
Who are affected by homelessness?
Salvos Connect Western regional manager Lindsay Stow said single people were the biggest and most difficult cohort to help. He said this was due to the lack of affordable accommodation available to people on low incomes.
“The private rental market – in many places – is difficult to access and the same goes with public housing,” he said. “There are a number of three bedroom properties that are available, but if they aren’t eligible for a three bedroom property then they have to wait a long time.
“There just aren’t enough one and two bedroom properties.
“Wherever people go, the resources available for single people are very difficult to find.
“I think people who have mental health problems also find it hard to navigate the system and access and maintain accommodation.”
Mr Stow said there was a broad range of reasons that can cause people to become homeless.
However, he said family violence, mental health problems and alcohol and drug dependency were the most common drivers.
“Homelessness can be caused by something so simple as a relationship break down, a loss of a job or it can be an illness,” he said.
“But, family violence is a big driver of homelessness and people with a range of issues such as mental health problems or drug and alcohol dependencies, have trouble accessing or maintaining accommodation.”