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Homeless families on the rise in Australia

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While the rest of us are rejoicing over relaxed restrictions, there are some Australian families out there doing it more than a bit tough.

Imagine what it would have been like spending March, April and a bit of May locked down in your car with your children – that comfy bed in your house with Netflix doesn’t sound so bad, after all.

New reports have recently come out showing there’s a growing number of homeless families nationwide. The report calls for more social housing and a permanent increase to the job seeker payment (with no activity test) to help create real change for these struggling families.

When we picture the homeless, it isn’t families that we picture – it’s not the stereotype. But would you believe 64% of people who sought support from specialist homelessness services were families in 2017-18? The Homelessness Service System to Support Families report for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) shares that sadly this number has been rising in recent years.

An increasing number of families battling hard. And it hurts me to share many of them are falling through the cracks.

There are many reasons that families end up on the streets – one being something that’s been on the rise recently too – domestic violence. In fact, it’s been reported that domestic violence was the most common reason families reached out to homelessness services.

Many of these people accessed the Safe at Home program, allowing them to stay safely in their family home, while preventing the perpetrator of violence from entering the property. The problem with this is sometimes the victims were unable to afford the rent or mortgage payments on their own. This prompted a change to the program allowing the victims to choose another more affordable home.

While this can potentially work well, it’s not preventing numbers from increasing, so we need to address the issue differently. Yes, an increase of government payments would help, but largely the problem lies in a lack of social housing – accessible, safe housing that is less than a third of a household’s income. Throughout the country, there simply isn’t enough social housing. And the limited numbers of social houses are sometimes being occupied by those who don’t actually need it.

An increased number of social homes would improve access for every woman or man suffering domestic violence. We’re aware that the Safe at Home programs don’t work for everybody, particularly Indigenous families. It’s been reported that Indigenous women were 35 times more likely to experience domestic and family violence and while this statistic is troublingly high, these women are less likely to seek help as they are concerned about having their children removed.

That is simply heartbreaking.

These women and children will stay in unsafe, undignified places because the alternative (in their minds) could be worse.

There are charities out there doing their best to help. There’s a Gold Coast charity dedicated to helping single mothers living with their children in cars.

One family they helped was a single mother with two boys aged 6 and 8. To look at them, you wouldn’t think they were homeless – once again not fitting of the stereotype. The mother did her best to maintain their dignity. She would take them to fast food restaurants to clean their faces, brush their teeth and get them ready for school.

When offered by the DV support services a place in shelter, she refused saying she didn’t want to subject her sons to a shelter. She wanted to keep them safe, protected and in a routine. The Gold Coast charity later assisted her in gaining safe, secure accommodation, interstate.

But why did she have to go interstate?

No matter where you’re living, there should be social housing available. Children shouldn’t be uprooted from their schools and lives, surely the stress and struggle of being temporarily homeless is enough to handle.

Sometimes these families just need a little help for a little while and sometimes they need long-term support. Regardless, there’s simply not enough homes out there. If the Government can provide additional funds to help stimulate the economy, surely they can provide fund to stimulate construction of social housing.

It’s time to stop this figure from rising.

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