Housing crisis deepens

    Open or rough sleeping is the visible tip of the iceberg of the current systemic housing crisis.

    We all ask ourselves what’s going on when we see tarps erected in public places, or people sleeping in their cars.

    Those who work daily with people experiencing housing stress and homelessness understand that open or rough sleeping in Mount Alexander Shire is the visible tip of the iceberg of the current systemic housing crisis.

    This is a crisis of reduced supply of private rentals, higher rents, lack of supply of public housing and limited resources for an emergency housing response and so the Midland Express contacted Dhelkaya Health to provide our readers with a greater understanding of the issues the community is facing.

    According to Homes Victoria Rental Report, low-to-middle income earners in regional Victoria can now only afford 24 per cent of all private rental stock. In the past it has been double that.

    Homes Victoria data shows that there has been a 7.5 per cent reduction in private rental stock across Loddon Mallee. There are now all-time low vacancy rates and annual rental increases of five per cent.

    Castlemaine now has the sixth highest rent for three-bedroom houses in regional Victoria at $455 a week.

    Housing options for low-income families historically have been public or social housing. But public housing waiting lists have grown exponentially because there has been less turnover and more people are seeking affordable housing through the public system.

    Dhelkaya Health CEO Sue Race said this was the nature of the gridlock in housing.

    “As private rental becomes less affordable and public housing waits are years long, people are couch surfing, sharing with friends, sleeping in night shelters, staying in motels, and when all of that fails, sleeping in cars,” Ms Race said.

    “If they don’t have a car or friends to stay with, then they are sleeping in parks and other public places.

    “Generally, people sleeping in public places are people with the least social and economic resources, doing the best that they can in a very difficult situation. They are people who have run out of every other option.

    “The harms associated with housing stress, the risk of homelessness and homelessness compounds poor health and reduces people’s capacity to work and earn and get themselves back on track so they can afford housing. It is a vicious cycle.

    “Until the broader housing system issues are addressed then we are likely to continue to witness the fall-out around us.”

    A Housing Forum held recently in Castlemaine welcomed representatives of federal, state and local government. These representatives are working together on solutions for housing builds, both public and private, but there is a long lead time for any action to impact on the ground.

    Existing services including Dhelkaya Health, Castlemaine Police, Mount Alexander Shire Council and Salvation Army are working to capacity on this issue, coordinating responses as needs arise.

    Dhelkaya Health’s Specialist Homelessness Program can assist eligible people to access private rentals and when private rental is not a sustainable option, people are assisted to apply for public and social housing.

    My Home Network (auspiced by Dhelkaya Health) is a local network advocating for greater housing support to vulnerable people in the community.

    The Network, made up of people with lived experience and services with expertise in the homelessness field, continues to lobby state and federal governments for funds to address housing need here, with a focus on additional, purpose-built short-term and crisis accommodation locally as a way to reduce people sleeping rough.

    What you can do to help

    If you’re concerned about the issue of homelessness and the welfare of those involved, there are some actions you can take:

    – give generous donations to existing charities who supply the bulk of material aid to homeless people (e.g. St Vincent De Paul Castlemaine or The Salvation Army)

    – Phone Dhelkaya Health’s Housing Service on 5479 1000 if you have a specific concern about the living conditions of people who are sleeping in the open. The housing service assesses and coordinates responses and endeavours to help all those at risk of, or who are experiencing, homelessness.

    – Engage with My Home Network and follow updates from the Network on Dhelkaya Health’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/castlemainehealth