Housing crisis threatens middle Australia

Older women are now the fastest growing group of people facing homelessness.
Older women are now the fastest growing group of people facing homelessness.

At least 650,000 new social homes are urgently needed as the nation's affordability crisis creeps towards middle Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society says.

Vinnies' national council president Claire Victory believes the great Australian dream is fast moving beyond the reach of minimum income earners, placing pressure on a limited, overheated rental market.

She says more than 116,000 people are sleeping rough across the country every night and with stagnated wages and real estate prices continuing to soar, the federal government needs to intervene as a matter of urgency.

The call coincides with the launch of National Homelessness Week.

"The Society has repeatedly called for the federal government to establish a social housing fund of $10 billion to augment the efforts of the states and territories to address the chronic and growing shortage," Ms Victory said.

"Homelessness is no longer that stereotypical person sleeping rough.

'It's people like you and me, just one life event away from a devastating change in circumstances - illness including mental ill health, relationship breakdown, loss of a spouse, domestic violence or the loss of a job."

Older women are now the fastest growing group of people facing homelessness. Those who don't own their own home and affected by domestic violence are particularly vulnerable.

Of 74,000 rental listings in Anglicare's 2021 annual survey, only three were affordable for a person on Jobseeker and none for a person on Youth Allowance.

At the same time, two thirds of 170,000 vulnerable private renters are currently in rental stress with less than $250 a week to live on after paying rent.

"Governments have left housing to the market and the market has failed," Ms Victory said.

"In the face of the economic facts, it's difficult to understand the lack of political will to invest urgently."

She says high housing costs suppress demand for other goods and services while supported housing saves $13,100 per person annually in net reduced use of government services.

Amid COVID lockdown in NSW, Mission Australia is meanwhile urging those experiencing homelessness to accurately record their living situation on Census night, August 10, so the severity of the issue is represented.

Five years ago, the 2016 Census showed 116,427 people across the country were without a safe, secure place to sleep at night.

However Mission Australia CEO James Toomey says contrary to perceptions, homelessness goes beyond those sleeping on the streets or in cars and rough sleepers only made up seven per cent of those counted.

"The bigger picture is that most people and families experiencing homelessness are hidden from plain sight," he said.

"We know from the most recent Census data that the majority are living in severely crowded dwellings, couch surfing temporarily with friends or family, or living in crisis accommodation, a shelter, refuge or boarding house."

Australian Associated Press