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Vulnerable Aussie families invisible to the homelessness system

18 June 2020 at 8:00 am
Luke Michael
Families experience unique challenges when it comes to homelessness

Luke Michael | 18 June 2020 at 8:00 am


Vulnerable Aussie families invisible to the homelessness system
18 June 2020 at 8:00 am

Families experience unique challenges when it comes to homelessness

A rising number of Australian families are experiencing homelessness but many remain invisible to the service system, new research warns.    

An Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report explored how well the homelessness services system works for Australian families and where things could be improved. 

It found that a growing number of families were experiencing homelessness due to factors including family violence, poverty and a lack of affordable and suitable accommodation. 

Lead author of the report, UNSW Sydney associate professor kylie valentine, said the impact of homelessness on children and parents was significant and often system responses failed to fully help.

“Families who experience or are at risk of homelessness due to poverty or adverse events such as unemployment or illness have different needs from families whose experience of homelessness is caused primarily by domestic and family violence,” valentine said.

“This is a problem for the homelessness system as the single category of ‘families’ combines groups of people who have quite different experiences and characteristics and need different types of support.” 

While homelessness services often provided effective local support to families, the report noted that the system struggled to address problems of insufficient affordable housing supply, poverty, and gaps in other services such as child welfare and education.

The report also said families escaping domestic violence could be invisible in official homelessness service statistics, as they did not always seek help from service providers.

“Families are often more invisible in the system because parents will do whatever they can to not be sleeping rough with kids,” valentine told Pro Bono News.

“They will try to maintain shelter for themselves and for their children, even if that means being in overcrowded housing, couch surfing, or staying in unsuitable or unsafe accommodation.

“Whereas for individuals, they’re the ones that tend to be more visible in policy and service provision because rough sleeping is literally visible in a way that couch surfing isn’t.”  

While services were good at meeting a family’s immediate needs, valentine said it was the pathways into something more sustainable and long-term where the gaps really became apparent.

“Meeting immediate needs is really important, of course. But long-term permanent housing that’s safe and affordable is what’s really needed to address homelessness,” she said. 

“So the big gap, I think, is in long-term housing. And that requires a sustained response across multiple sectors, not just in service provision.

“An investment in social housing is also vital.”

New plan to end rough sleeping homelessness  

This call for an investment in social housing has been echoed by the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH), which this week submitted a seven-point policy plan to a federal parliamentary inquiry into homelessness in Australia.

The AAEH estimates that more than 5,000 people experiencing or at risk of sleeping rough were temporarily sheltered in the first eight weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and CEO David Pearson said attention must now turn to securing people long-term housing.

“We’ve finally started to treat people experiencing homelessness with some dignity and compassion on a large scale. Let’s not stop now,” Pearson said.

“This submission explores that and how we can end rough sleeping homelessness for good. There has never been a better time to end rough sleeping homelessness in Australia than right now.”   

AAEH estimates that a $49 million investment would give 2,500 people who are temporarily sheltered an immediate home via a private rental property with support.

The full submission can be seen here.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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