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Home for Christmas? Not everyone is so lucky

As we prepare to share Christmas with our families, we’re thankful that we have a roof over our head, food on our table, and family and friends to share the festive season with. Not everyone in our community is so lucky.

This week, the Geelong Advertiser reported that a new accommodation service for homeless men would be open by April. This will provide welcome support to some of the people experiencing homelessness in Geelong, because it’s getting harder to access safe accommodation.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 59 per cent of people seeking immediate accommodation from government-funded specialist homelessness services are turned away every day. Sixty per cent of people turned away in 2010-11 were women, with families experiencing particular difficulties obtaining crisis accommodation.

Having managed a statewide homelessness service for several years, I know that these statistics are stark. But it’s not until you start to speak to people experiencing homelessness, that you really begin to understand the personal tragedies that sit behind many of these numbers.

Like many Australians, people in Geelong face difficulties accessing crisis accommodation and other supports. Our community organisations are bursting at the seams, trying to access housing, material aid, health services and other essential supports for people at times of crisis and vulnerability.

The new Samaritan House Foundation service is a fantastic initiative that will assist some of Geelong’s most vulnerable people. The Addy reported that 12 new beds would be available every night.

Sadly, though, this will still leave hundreds of Geelong residents homeless every night.

The 2006 census showed that 465 Geelong residents are homeless on any given night, and 105,000 are homeless across Australia. While there are practical and mathematical difficulties in measuring homelessness, it’s likely that the figures have increased since the 2006 census.

Having 105,000 people experience homelessness every night just isn’t acceptable in our modern society.

Governments have recognised that they must act to prevent homelessness. When he came to power in 2007, Kevin Rudd instructed his government members to visit homeless services across Australia.

A year later, Rudd launched a new policy platform to prevent and end homelessness. The two key goals were to offer accommodation to all rough sleepers by 2020, and to halve the overall rate of homelessness.

The Government also put its money on the line, with significant investment in social housing as part of the economic stimulus package. This is expected to deliver almost 20,000 new affordable homes across Australia.

However, this won’t touch the sides of the problem. This week, the National Housing Supply Council released its 2011 State of Supply report, which found that we need an extra 186,000 homes to meet existing supply.

The Victorian Government is currently developing a housing framework that will look at broad aspects of public and community housing. This will complement the Homelessness Action Plan the government launched in October, which includes:

  • support for innovative ways of tackling homelessness;
  • investigating models that specifically focus on early intervention and prevention; and
  • providing better targeted resources so that they are available when and where they are needed.

However, what is really needed is more affordable, safe and secure housing.

Without housing, people are socially isolated and marginalised. Housing allows people to engage or re-engage in the community, undertake training or employment opportunities, reconnect with families and friends, or start to address their health issues. People experiencing homelessness need access to long-term, secure, affordable and appropriate housing.

For Christmas this year, let’s wish for an increased commitment to ending homelessness from governments, service providers and the whole community. Actually, don’t wish – let’s act.

This article first appeared in the Geelong Advertiser.

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