There are good news stories. Governments are pledging money for more social housing. In New South Wales, we now have Trina Jones as NSW Rental Commissioner – she was previously the CEO of Homelessness Australia, so she knows this space and is passionate about change.
But why, in the ‘lucky country’, is homelessness and the risk of homelessness rising relentlessly?
It’s a complex issue. There’s inflation. There’s the cost of living. I’m not here to say solving any of this is easy. It’s not. But here are five simple, eminently doable things we can do – right now – to start ending homelessness.
1. Acknowledge the issue is bigger than sleeping rough
Say ‘homelessness’ and most people will picture someone sleeping rough. This is, in part, due to politics. Rough sleepers are the most visible personification of homelessness – the people some politicians, councils and governments seek to support and ‘move on’.
But rough sleepers are only 6.2% of people experiencing homelessness in Australia today. The vast proportion of the +122,000 people experiencing homelessness are couch surfing or stuck in crisis accommodation, rooming services, overcrowded houses, insecure temporary accommodation, caravans and tents.
Then there’s the growing number of individuals and families at risk of homelessness due to the spiralling cost of living. More and more people with jobs – or several jobs – find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness.
2. Ensure all Australians receive an adequate income
Yes, the minimum wage has risen, but the cost of living has risen more. In Sydney, rental prices have increased 13.8% in 12 months. Apartments have increased by 19%. Even with Rent Assistance, working individuals and families struggle to stay afloat, sacrificing food, heat and other essentials to keep a roof over their heads. We can do better.
3. Build more safe, affordable housing
Long-term investments in social housing are welcome, but that doesn’t improve the situation now. And it won’t be enough to get on top of the growing homelessness crisis. We need governments and councils to think outside the box: change land zoning; fast-track suitable development approvals; build tiny homes and prefabs; embrace new homebuilding technologies. There are so many options.
4. Come together to end family and domestic violence (FDV)
For 28% of people who are homeless or at-risk, FDV is the cause. And yet, despite funding pledges, FDV is growing. We must stand together and say, ‘Enough is enough. It’s never OK to abuse another person.’ Ending FDV is a moral imperative and it will go a long way to ending homelessness.
5. Be the country we claim to be
Australia: the country of mateship and a fair go. So why is there such stigma associated with homelessness or being at risk of homelessness? We need to listen, reserve judgement and recognise that the person experiencing homelessness isn’t the problem. They didn’t bring it upon themselves. They certainly don’t deserve it. We need to be a voice for those too scared or ashamed to say it. We need to be willing to say homelessness isn’t on.
Now is the time to end homelessness, but we can only do it together. By calling out the challenge and inaction. By saying it’s not good enough to have families struggling to stay warm and eat, to face each day wondering if they will have a roof over their heads tonight. By collectively working together with government and our community to end homelessness.