Over one weekend in March this year, Anglicare Australia conducted a rental affordability study. They found that of the 69,485 private listings around the nation for that weekend, no capital city had a property affordable to a single person on Newstart or Youth Allowance. There was one property suitable for a person on Newstart in the Orange region (NSW) and another in the Riverina (NSW), 554 rentals were affordable for a single person on the age pension and 317 for those on a disability pension.
Salvation Army Housing Victoria (SAH/V) manager, Lisa Dalla-Zuanna, and her team know the heartbreak, fear and injustice behind those statistics.
“In Victoria alone, there are more than 25,000 homeless persons on any given night,” Lisa says.
Managing 780 properties in Victoria, with another 420 across Tasmania, WA and SA, SAH/V finds homes for people experiencing social disadvantage. But Lisa and her team aim for much more; their work reflects the mission values of The Salvation Army of “being there when people need us most, for justice, tackling the social systems that strip away human dignity and joining God’s work to build a fairer world where all can thrive”.
Lisa loves her job, and the reason is seeing people being able to turn their lives around because they have somewhere to live long-term.
“All people have the right to housing and choice; nobody wants to spend their life wondering where they are going to sleep on any given night,” she says.
“We all aspire to have something we can afford to call home and to stay in for a length of time that is of our choosing. Without a home there is no human dignity. No one can have the life they want — or want to return to — without a roof over their head. To try to tackle depression or an addiction while living on the street would be impossible.
“We have great success stories of people without a home, on the streets, coming into one of our properties and having a happy ending. It’s hard work but it’s great work, and what I do with my team provides those homes to make that difference.”
SAH/V offers a range of housing for people. This includes crisis housing, from one to 13 weeks, with support services included; transitional housing for one to 18 months with support; long-term housing and rooming house accommodation. Tenants are referred through homelessness agencies or by applying online through the Victorian Housing Register on the MyGov website.
“Homelessness has never only been about addictions and mental health issues. People’s lives can change quickly and supporting yourself without a good income can place anyone at risk,” Lisa observes.
“More people are coming to us due to family or domestic violence and one of the highest groups experiencing homelessness at the moment is single women aged over 55.
“We also see families who have suffered job loss through redundancy and if the family home goes, affordable rentals are often not available. I’d like to think families would help each other through a crisis but those connections are often not there. Most people we work with rarely have a next of kin to list, or one they want to list.”
The team strives to establish safe, affordable and secure tenancies for those coming to them for help. Lisa explains this can have different meanings for different people — for a woman escaping domestic violence it can mean somewhere that the perpetrator doesn’t know about and that is secured by locks on all doors.
“Generally, though, this means the property is close to a person’s support network, is well-maintained and has good infrastructure around it,” she says.
“It also means it has a long, affordable tenure and is somewhere a family, couple or single can call home for a secure future.”
Their tenants include singles, couples, families, individuals with disabilities and older individuals. Once a referral is able to be matched to a property, a housing worker meets the tenant at the property to create a lease, talk through their rights and responsibilities as a tenant and SAH/V’s responsibilities as the landlord.
“We explain about being a good neighbour and give our tenant all the information they need for phone contacts and local services. At the lease signing, if the tenant has an allocated support person they will be there and we’ll discuss any additional needs, referrals to other agencies, or any interest in a local Salvo corps [church],” Lisa says.
“Their allocated tenancy worker then becomes their contact point for any issues regarding their tenancy.”
Lack of available housing, misconceptions neighbours may have about tenants, and lack of agencies to support tenants are some of the challenges faced regularly by the team.
“People can be stable for long periods but it takes only a small bump to spiral people into depression or bad habits. It can be impossible to find an agency to work with a tenant when their life takes a wrong turn because of long waiting lists. We can spend a lot of time trying to reconnect people to the support they need, and in that time a lot can fall apart,” Lisa says.
“As often as we can we will refer people to Salvation Army corps for the spiritual aspect, kids clubs, friendship groups, community support, financial counselling, whatever is available in the area. This is one of the best things about The Salvation Army — we cover everything from the spiritual, to the house a person needs to live in, and everything in-between.”
For more information, go to www.salvationarmy.org.au/need-help
Homelessness Week, 4–10 August, is an annual week coordinated by Homelessness Australia (www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au) to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve enduring solutions. This year’s theme is ‘Housing Ends Homelessness’.