Homelessness shouldn’t be inevitable for women and children escaping family violence
26 July 2021 at 5:49 pm
With National Homelessness Week just around the corner, Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare CEO Deb Tsorbaris calls on the Australian government to invest in social housing so women and children can escape violence and avoid homelessness.
More than 85,000 Australian children aged 0 to 17 years were clients of specialist homelessness services in 2019-20. Due to COVID-19, homelessness services across the country – like many social services – are experiencing increased demand from both individuals and families.
This is compounded by the fact that the pandemic has exacerbated many of the factors that can contribute to homelessness. These include family violence, unemployment, housing affordability and availability, poverty, health problems, mental illness, and substance or gambling dependency and abuse.
Nowhere to Go, a new report from Equity Economics and commissioned by the Everybody’s Home campaign, finds rates of family violence rose during COVID-19, with restrictions on movement and social interaction meaning women and children were often isolated with perpetrators in their homes.
Read more: An investment in social housing for domestic violence survivors could save Australia billions
In May 2020, the Australian Institute of Criminology surveyed more than 15,000 Australians and found two-thirds of women who reported experiencing family violence in the previous three months did so for the first time, or experienced an escalation in the frequency and severity of prior violence. Compared to 2019, in 2020 there was a 9 per cent increase in reports of family violence to police, however the elevated impacts from the pandemic are likely to be longer lasting.
Equity Economics also found that when comparing March 2020 and March this year, there was a 5.9 per cent increase in the number of women seeking specialist homelessness services following an experience of family violence, compared to a 0.4 per cent decrease across all other client groups. Even prior to COVID-19 and this spike in demand, family violence was the biggest cause of homelessness for women and children.
For women and their children escaping violence in the home, facing homelessness is a daunting but very real prospect. Having a safe, stable and secure place to go is crucial. Pre-pandemic modelling estimates more than 9,000 women a year become homeless after leaving their homes due to family violence and being unable to secure long-term housing. This can mean women have little choice but to return to their violent partners.
When a family does not have a safe place to live, this puts children at increased risk. When the basic need of housing is unmet, other supports – such as child development, parenting support and family strengthening activities delivered by our sector – can be challenging to provide.
The Nowhere to Go report finds building 16,810 social housing units across Australia would reduce the number of women that experience homelessness after leaving a violent partner by 9,100 and produce an economic benefit of $244 million in a single year.
While significant investments by the Andrews government and other state governments are important to acknowledge, there are not enough social housing properties to meet demand. With National Homelessness Week just around the corner (1-7 August), we call on the Australian government to urgently invest in social housing so women and children can escape violence and avoid homelessness. Not only does limited housing supply contribute to homelessness, it can also contribute to children entering care, and affect the ability of families to be reunified, particularly for Aboriginal families.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The convention commits Australia to providing support to parents and carers to realise this right for the children in their care, and to providing housing assistance when needed. Here in Victoria, the Ending Family Violence plan outlines outcomes and initial targets to prevent and respond to family violence. This includes a target of supporting all victim survivors to remain safely in their homes and connected to their community.
Investment in housing supply is the most effective step that government can take to address homelessness and is urgently required to meet the most basic safety and wellbeing needs of children and families, particularly those that are experiencing family violence.