Homelessness crisis worsening across Goulburn Valley: BeyondHousing

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BeyondHousing chief executive Celia Adams said the homelessness situation across the region was worsening. Photo: Megan Fisher
Crisis: BeyondHousing chief executive Celia Adams says the homelessness situation across the region is worsening. Photo: Megan Fisher Photo by Megan Fisher

Rates of homelessness in the Goulburn Valley are increasing, with more and more people pushed back into homelessness, the lead support agency in the region says.

BeyondHousing chief executive Celia Adams said the rental crisis and a lack of available homes were exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation, and that the problem would get worse before it got better.

“People’s ability to maintain their current housing situation is being increasingly compromised by the rising cost of food, petrol and other living expenses,” Ms Adams said.

This week marks Homelessness Week across the country, shining a light on people who are without a permanent roof over their heads.

BeyondHousing’s homelessness team helped 3538 people across the Ovens, Murray and Goulburn regions in 2021-22, and more than 6400 households across those regions accessed client services, which included people who needed help to find and keep a home in the private rental market.

Ms Adams said demand for BeyondHousing services was growing, and solutions were increasingly becoming hard to find.

"Unfortunately, the issues of homelessness and a lack of affordable housing are not new, it has been going on for many years, for far too long across the country,” Ms Adams said.

“Having enough housing, in the form people need it, is critical. With the safety and security of a home, and a tailored support service, people can connect with employment and education opportunities, with family and within their community.”

BeyondHousing has completed 34 new homes in the past 12 months, with more than 150 planned for the next two years thanks to funding from the Peter and Lyndy White Foundation and through the Victorian Government.

However, Ms Adams said “significantly” more homes were needed and the numbers of people at risk were “staggering”.

“There are more than 3800 households on the housing wait-list, a social housing shortfall of at least 5600 homes and disastrously low rental vacancy rates like we haven’t witnessed before,” she said.

"Even at the current rate of construction we could not build enough homes for the 2062 households already on the lengthy priority housing wait-list, let alone respond to the demand for affordable housing given a dire shortage of private rentals in the region.

“This is a housing and homelessness crisis in this region that is not going to be easy or quick to solve, and organisations like ours cannot do it alone.”

Ms Adams said 63 per cent of BeyondHousing’s recent clients had been helped by the organisation before, and she said a similar number of people would come back over the next few years.

“So many people haven’t had an increase to the rate of income support, whilst rent and costs of living continue to rise exponentially,” she said.

“This tells us that people will be continually vulnerable to the risks of homelessness.

“This is quite remarkable because that’s saying these are people who have a history of interaction with the homelessness and housing systems, yet they are still needing that support because they can’t escape the cycle, as economic, social and health impacts create barriers to stability in their lives.”

Ms Adams hoped this year’s homelessness numbers would motivate leaders across all levels of government to ramp up the resources for evidence-based, housing-focused solutions to homelessness that were proven to work.

“We can make an impact by increasing the construction of affordable housing at a scale that meets the needs of the community,” she said.

However, she urged change to be made now.

“We can’t wait anymore for a long-term systematic investment in social housing, for affordable appropriate land or courage in decision and policy making that will help alleviate rental housing shortages, such as inclusionary zoning or caps on tax breaks for investment properties, as suggested by the recent OECD report,” Ms Adams said.

“There are too many families and individuals who have already waited for too long and many more that will join this list by the time the next Homelessness Week rolls around.”

If you or anyone you know is experiencing or at risk of homelessness, call 1800 825 955 to speak with a housing and support worker.