Life is only getting harder for those struggling to stay under a safe roof and we need to act now, writes David Goodwin.
When we think of the homeless, many of us might picture people bundled up in multiple layers of clothing, huddled in a doorway or sitting against the wall in a busy city street, often with a cardboard sign asking for money or support.
While this may be the visible face of homelessness, especially as portrayed in the media, the reality is that it is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a growing crisis in Australia submerged beneath the surface but it’s sinking thousands of lives every day.
There are many people sleeping rough on the streets but they make up only 6% of Australia’s 115,000 homeless people. There are also families sleeping in their cars, or people moving from house to house, staying on the couch with family and friends a night at a time because they have nowhere else to go. And it’s getting worse—homelessness figures are up almost 14% from last year.
In a country that prides itself on being built on the idea of a fair go for everyone, and considers itself a land of opportunity where anyone can succeed if they are willing to work hard, it may be comforting to tell ourselves that people who are homeless don’t have to be, that they choose to be or that they aren’t willing to work—that it is their fault. But recent research reveals that even those who want to get help to make a better life are finding it increasingly harder to do so and that the system is stacked against them.
Every year, The Salvation Army puts together a report based on information gathered from people accessing our services, as well as a number of one-on-one interviews. This information is collated in our national Economic and Social Impact Survey (ESIS), and this year’s report makes for disturbing reading.
On average, 81% of those surveyed are spending more than half their weekly income on housing, that figure growing to 90% for those with children. After accommodation expenses, they are left with less than $20 a day to live on, meaning many are struggling to pay utility bills and buy groceries.
When you add the statistic that one in five of respondents who have become homeless in the past 12 months had previously been in a private rental, it paints a disturbing picture of struggling Australians not only being denied the opportunity to build better lives, but being pushed to the margins more every day. When you are battling to cover basic living costs, how are you meant to save money for a house of your own? And, as rental prices go up, more and more Aussies are struggling to put a roof over their heads at all.
Speaking in response to the latest Federal Budget, which saw the Federal Government fail to increase Newstart, Captain Jason Davies-Kildea, a principal Salvation Army social policy manager, said, “Under these conditions, it is no surprise that the number of people falling into homelessness has been increasing.”
While organisations like The Salvation Army are doing their best to help vulnerable Aussies, there are increasing calls for the government to take action to fix a system that is clearly broken. It’s not just at the street level that change is needed, either, but at every level of Australia’s housing industry. It’s becoming harder for the average Aussie to buy their own home, turning the Great Australian Dream into a nightmare, while prices of rentals keep soaring and they are becoming harder and harder to find.
A snippet of key findings from ESIS on homelessness
Despite these challenges, there has been little done to fill the increasing gap. In The Salvation Army’s 2018–19 budget submission, it called on the government to: develop a comprehensive and long-term strategy to address homelessness and housing affordability, commit to 200,000 new units of social housing, and increase the Newstart Allowance by at least $75 per week. None of these measures, which would make a real difference to the most vulnerable, are present in the recently announced budget.
That’s why the Salvos have joined other charities in the ‘Everybody’s Home’ campaign, adding our voice to the call to fix a broken system and give every Aussie a fair go. We believe that everybody deserves a safe and secure place to call home, that it is a right, not a privilege given only to those who can afford it.
The campaign has outlined five steps to fix the housing and homelessness crisis, reforming the industry from top to bottom, and making life better for everyone from homeowners to those sleeping on the streets. We believe that it’s not enough to wallpaper over the cracks, but that we need to rebuild on a foundation built on fairness and justice.
Step one is to overhaul the tax system to support first-home buyers. It’s more important to make it easier for people to own their home than it is to put investment buyers or landlords first. We also need a national housing strategy to start filling the gap between how many houses we need and how many are actually accessible. More low-cost properties would mean more choices, making it easier to find a home, but 500,000 new affordable rental homes are needed to meet the demand for affordable housing.
We also need to redress the balance between renters and owners. ‘No grounds’ evictions and unfair rent rises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us. We want Australians to have the security they need to create homes, build lives and raise families, even when they are renting.
The campaign also calls for an increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance to provide immediate relief for the thousands of Australians who are struggling to pay the rent. Money spent here would stop people being pushed into homelessness, or being forced to choose between food in the cupboard and having a place to live.
Finally, we believe that together we can do more than provide short-term solutions, and that a concerted effort could see us halve the homelessness rate in five years—and end homelessness completely in ten. A country where everyone has a roof over their heads really would be a country that is built on giving everyone a fair go—which is what Aussies want.
Your generosity and support continues to help those in need, from people living on the street to those struggling to give their kids three meals a day. We wouldn’t be able to fill the gap without your help, but together we can create a future where the housing gap no longer exists.
As The Salvation Army continues to work to transform Australia one life at a time through the love of Jesus, we hope that you will join with us in calling on the government to work towards that fair Australia we all believe in for tomorrow.
To find out more about the campaign, visit www.everybodyshome.com.au
The ESIS Report can be found at www.salvationarmy.org.au/2018-esis