Housing call

By Myles Peterson

The Council to Homeless Persons has welcomed the response of Shepparton’s political elite to alarming data released yesterday, but has called for action, not words.

On Tuesday, the council revealed Shepparton had the highest rate of homelessness in regional Victoria, according to an analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics census data.

The analysis was backed by frontline organisation Beyond Housing which stated Shepparton was its busiest office.

The council’s acting chief executive Kate Colvin said Victoria had fallen behind the rest of Australia in providing social housing for those at the most vulnerable end of the spectrum.

‘‘Australia would be around the five per cent mark, and Victoria sits around three per cent,’’ Ms Colvin said.

As a nation, Australia falls well behind many comparable countries such as the United Kingdom, where levels of social housing sit about 20 per cent, according to Ms Colvin.

Yesterday’s release drew many responses in the context of the Victorian state election campaign.

Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp, who heads the Labor ticket for the looming poll, said Labor had invested millions.

‘‘Homelessness is a complex issue, often intertwined with a range of other issues including family violence or family breakdown — or they might be experiencing mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse or unemployment,’’ he said.

‘‘More than $100million in homelessness support initiatives have been delivered in suburbs and regional areas in the past year — more than $4.5million of this homelessness funding went to agencies in the Shepparton area to deliver support services.’’

His Liberal party rival, Wendy Lovell, again pointed to her own record as housing minister, stating she was particularly proud of the Youth Foyer campaign, describing it as a ‘‘hand up rather than a hand-out.’’

But neither member of the major parties would make a funding commitment, both stating policy announcements would be made closer to election day.

Ms Colvin said there was only one real solution to Shepparton’s homelessness problem and the waiting list for social housing which had blown out to 1059 people: more social housing.

Statewide, the Council to Homeless Persons and Shepparton’s Beyond Housing are calling for 3000 new homes to be built each year, with half of them containing one or two bedrooms.

That represents 80 new houses per year for the Shepparton region, or a commitment of about $40million annually.