‘The worst is yet to come’: Growing number of Indigenous women seeking homelessness support
14 December 2020 at 5:42 pm
New data shows the rate of Aboriginal Victorians seeking homelessness support is growing twice as fast as the rate for non-Indigenous people
Family violence services are busier than ever as 2020 draws to a close and are fearful of what’s to come, as new research shows the overrepresentation of Indigenous people seeking homelessness support continues to grow.
A report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that 260 people were turned away from homelessness services every day throughout the 2019-20 financial year, with women and girls making up two-thirds of this figure.
In Victoria, the past year has seen a six per cent increase in Indigenous people using specialist homelessness services, compared with a three per cent increase for the non-Indigenous population.
Jenny Smith, the CEO of Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), said she was concerned by the data.
“Aboriginal Victorians are grossly overrepresented among people without a home, and [this] data shows that this overrepresentation is, sadly, continuing to grow,” Smith said.
“As a consequence of broader Indigenous disadvantage, they are more likely to have a low income and to struggle to afford private rental, plus they face discrimination in the rental market.
“[The] data shows that this dual challenge translates into homelessness, which further entrenches disadvantage.”
An organisation on the frontline tackling this issue is Elizabeth Morgan House (EMH), an Aboriginal-run refuge and crisis support centre for Indigenous women and children who have experienced family violence.
CEO Kellyanne Andy told Pro Bono News that EMH has found itself busier than ever heading into Christmas.
“It’s usually a quiet period for us with school about to end and Christmas about to happen,” Andy said.
“We usually quieten down til about February… but I don’t see us winding down any time soon.”
Andy said while COVID has obviously had an impact on the growing demand for services, this was an ongoing issue due to a shortage in housing.
She also warned that the months ahead would be even more difficult.
“I think COVID has just highlighted some of the areas that needed to be highlighted. But the worst is yet to come,” she said.
“Next year we’ll see the proper impacts of what COVID’s done to the community when people are exited from the crisis accommodation motels.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere for people to go. And I don’t think we’re ready for that.”
Advocates say the Victorian government’s recently announced plan to deliver 12,000 social and affordable housing properties – 10 per cent of which will be for Indigenous people – was a welcome commitment.
But the CHP believes this must be matched by co-investment in social housing growth by the federal government, and a boost in social housing that is managed by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) from all levels of government.
The Australian Alliance to End Homelessness has also used the new AIHW data to renew its call for a national coordinated Rough Sleeping Homelessness Pandemic Response Plan – to ensure people in temporary accommodation are not kicked out back onto the streets.
Andy added that housing investment must be matched by increased investment in support services.
“We need to think outside the box and start looking at other opportunities as well,” she said.
“Getting more housing would be great. But with more housing you need more support services, and more financial aid for the clients to actually meet their long-term goals as well.
“I don’t think enough of us look at the longer term [needs] that it actually takes for somebody to be successful.”