Homelessness - What About the Jewish Community?
24 November 2015 at 10:22 am
There’s been a significant increase in demand for support by members of the Jewish community who are experiencing the same range of issues that cause homelessness in the general community, writes Melinda Kidgell and Marilyn Kraner from Jewish Care.
Numerous events occur throughout the year that remind us all that there are people currently homeless or at risk of homelessness – Homelessness Prevention Week, World Homeless Day and National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, recently held in America. But what do we really understand about the issue of homelessness, especially how it is experienced by the Jewish community?
We know that anyone can become homeless regardless of age, education, socio-economic or relationship status, gender, race or religion. We also know that the causes of homelessness are varied and complex, and can include some or many of the following: abuse, domestic violence, family and relationship breakdown, financial problems, unemployment, disability, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling, grief, loss and insufficient affordable housing.
While all of these factors might cause a person to become homeless, they may also be some of the reasons why people stay homeless.
The pathways out of homelessness are directly related to the drivers or pathways into homelessness, which is why ending homelessness is more than just about providing a roof over someone’s head. It is about providing a house with wrap-around support for the individual to address and overcome the issues that contributed to homelessness in the first place. Sometimes these issues are straightforward, such as maximising income or providing affordable housing. Other times, they are complex, like addressing issues of trauma and addiction.
What about the Jewish community? Housing needs within the Jewish population are similar to the levels within the total Victorian population. The causes of homelessness are also the same.
Professor Andrew Markus’ report, Housing Needs Within the Jewish Population of Melbourne commissioned by Jewish Care Victoria, estimates that around 220 Jewish people are homeless at any one time, with an additional 130 at risk of homelessness. In addition, nearly 7500 people are living in households experiencing rental stress or mortgage stress.
Consideration of the relative cost of Jewish life indicates that Jewish families, whether observant or traditional, have specific cultural and religious needs which result in costs that are higher than for average Australians, which place extra financial pressure on those with low incomes.
The key factors are housing costs in the suburbs with the highest Jewish populations, educational costs at Jewish schools and a range of costs for those who follow an observant Jewish lifestyle, including synagogue affiliation and kosher food.
Over the past two years, Jewish Care has witnessed a significant increase in demand for support by individuals and families who display the range of issues that cause homelessness. Mental illness, drug and alcohol use, and violence and abuse are increasingly the reason why people are seeking service and support. Inability to pay rent is increasingly the reason why financial assistance is sought from not only Jewish Care, but other charities in the community. The risk of homelessness is being experienced by many.
For years, Jewish Care has housed the community in affordable housing. With 63 units and eight houses, the organisation is able to provide stable and affordable accommodation to approximately 60 individuals, eight families and four couples. Additionally, we have 16 properties within the specialist housing and homelessness service system.
Finding a house is one thing. Keeping people housed is another.
Jewish Care has developed a range of responses to keeping people housed. We do this through our financial counselling and emergency aid programs that actively assist people to maintain their accommodation, preventing them from dropping out of private rental homes and into homelessness.
For those in our housing program, we provide proactive support through our service coordination program, which focuses on addressing the causal factors that contributed to people becoming homeless in the first place. This wrap-around individualised support enables some of the most vulnerable individuals to have the best chance of sustaining their tenancy once they are housed.
More affordable housing is needed, more support is needed. That is why Jewish Care has embarked on fundraising $30 million towards a $180 million capital investment campaign for six major projects. Subject to this fundraising, one of these six capital projects will see almost $13 million invested in the creation of both new and refurbished housing units over the next three years.
People do not choose to be homeless. Rather, they end up homeless as a consequence of a one-off change of circumstance or a series of adverse life events, which leave them without a safety net and a safe and secure place to stay.
Homelessness awareness events are a small reminder that we are all just one life break away from becoming homeless, given the right interplay of circumstances and events.
About the authors: Marilyn Kraner is Manager Individual & Family Services at Jewish Care.and Melinda Kidgell is Program Manager, Client Services at Jewish Care. Jewish Care is the leading Jewish community organisation providing residential aged care, disability services, and community services.