By Danielle Kutchel
Each day in the City of Casey, more than 1000 people go without a safe place to call home.
That’s an estimate, because the data is pulled from the 2016 Census which counted 1285 homeless people in Casey.
It’s also unreliable because, according to the City of Casey, it doesn’t align with the experience of service providers in the area – which means the real number of people experiencing homelessness in Casey is likely to be far higher.
“People experiencing homelessness” is a broad term that encompasses a range of experiences: from people living on the street, to those staying on a friend’s couch.
And they can be people from all walks of life too – young and old, people leaving prison, migrants and, increasingly, women.
It’s important to know that homelessness doesn’t discriminate, according to Wayss chief executive officer Liz Thomas.
“The people Wayss supports are representative of almost every cohort within our diverse communities,” she said.
But women and children fleeing family violence are a definite concern, she said.
“We know that family violence is the biggest cause of homelessness for women and children.
“Particularly troubling is the fact that we are seeing women with young children who have escaped family violence spending too long in emergency accommodation such as motels or rooming houses due to shortages in housing.”
The south east region has seen a sharp increase in recent years of people presenting to homelessness services, and it’s particularly concentrated in Casey.
In fact, Casey experienced the highest increase of all the south east council areas (which also includes Dandenong, Monash and Cardinia) in clients accessing specialist homelessness services between 2017 and 2019.
But the pandemic has highlighted just how vulnerable – and how close to the edge – so many of us are.
“As the largest provider of family violence response and housing and homelessness services in the southern Melbourne area, we are in a good position to observe and reflect on what is happening in our region,” Ms Thomas said.
Wayss worked to ensure those with no housing at all received emergency accommodation, but the process highlighted the limited options available for people to exit crisis accommodation and move into safe, permanent and affordable housing, she said.
Many homes are out of reach of those who need them most, she added.
“The lack of affordable properties for rent within the Shire of Casey highlights the vulnerability of people forced to rely on social security.
“Using a benchmark of 30 per cent of income to define ‘affordable’, in the March – June 2021 quarter there was not one rental property that a single person on Newstart could afford.”
And as the pandemic showed, many people are just a single paycheck away from being homeless.
National Homelessness Week, from 1 August to 7 August, helps to shine a light on the problem and what can be done to help.
Ms Thomas said early intervention was key, while also making good economic sense – it’s expensive to provide often-lengthy crisis response services, as opposed to just maintaining housing for those at risk.
She said Wayss acknowledged the State Government’s Big Housing Build which is set to construct more than 12,000 new homes in a massive boost to social housing.
Local councils have a role to play too and the City of Casey has its own plans and strategies to reduce homelessness according, to Callum Pattie, manager of connected communities at Casey.
To mark National Homelessness Week, the council has partnered with Cardinia Shire to deliver the Casey Cardinia Housing and Homelessness Summit on Thursday 5 August, where local agencies, community members with lived experience of homelessness, and key government partners will come together to “design solutions and advocate for local needs”, he said.
The City of Casey also works alongside the homelessness service sector to support those who need it.
This week, Casey was among several councils that launched the Local Government Housing First for People Sleeping Rough Practice Guide.
The guide “provides critical guidance and best practice examples for local governments and agencies supporting community members experiencing homelessness”, Mr Pattie said.
“Council has a longstanding commitment to addressing homelessness, and in 2020 Council endorsed the Regional Local Government Homelessness and Social Housing Charter,” he added.
“The City of Casey also serves as Deputy Chair of the regional coalition that represents more than 2 million residents to address the urgent need for increased social housing and a more effective, integrated and supported homelessness service system.”
Ms Thomas said ending homelessness will take “genuine and sustained commitment” from government, businesses and the community.
“An inclusive and accepting community is very important in helping people to maintain their housing,” she said.
“The opportunity for people to engage in the community and reduce loneliness and social isolation are very strong protective factors for people at risk of homelessness.”
And she said there was still not enough affordable housing for those on low incomes or government benefits.
The solution to the housing crisis would involve “increased housing stock, combined with better-resourced housing access points, expansion of the tenancy support programs to low-income earners in private rental properties and targeted early intervention for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness so that they do not fall into what can become a lifetime of housing insecurity and homelessness.”
Meanwhile, local governments need to improve access to emergency and social housing, she added, to help keep people in crisis connected to the community they’re familiar with.
“Growth corridors must include appropriate service planning and resourcing that recognises the need to provide local crisis interventions and housing options that are best delivered in their own community,” Ms Thomas said.