More affordable housing needed to get Melbourne’s homeless off the streets

Toohey says homelessness is more visible in the CBD due to the increase activity and the sense of safety this brings. Picture: Tim Carrafa Source: Herald Sun

Homelessness is more visible in the CBD due to the increase activity and the sense of safety this brings. Picture: Tim Carrafa Source: Herald Sun

In the lead up to the November state election, issues like roads and public transport have been getting unjust amounts of attention, while some of Victoria’s most vulnerable people are being forgotten. 

Increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness in the Melbourne electorate highlights a need for a different approach, says peak homelessness body.

Policy manager from the Council to Homeless Persons (CHP), Sarah Toohey, says the “critical” lack of affordable housing and social housing in the Melbourne area is contributing to the increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness.

Melbourne ranks second in a list of electorates with the most people experiencing homelessness, with 1,066 people counted as homeless at the 2011 census. This is a 34% increase from the 2006 census.

The upward trend in Melbourne’s homelessness was also seen during this year’s Street Count. 142 people were recorded as sleeping rough in Melbourne’s CBD, which is the highest result since the survey began in 2008.

“In recent years, the number of social housing properties has been decreasing, and the population has been growing,” Toohey says. “We’ve got a critical shortage of affordable private rental housing and a critical shortage of public housing,”

“If you look at the Melbourne area, housing stress is high and the number of affordable housing is low. You’ve got a real housing crunch in Melbourne that’s really exacerbating the problem.”

Ellen Sandell, the Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne, says other parties have been too “slow moving” on homelessness.

“Napthine has followed the leader, and adopted Abbott’s callous attitude towards people experiencing homelessness. To be honest I don’t think there has been any thoughtful or preventative policies put in place,” Sandell says.

“I want to see greater investment in public housing, so that we can offer alternatives to sleeping rough rather than put someone on a 5 year waiting list.”

Given the rate of construction in the Melbourne electorate, Toohey says more space should be dedicated to public and affordable housing.

“We’re seeing new apartments go up all the time and we’re seeing new properties being rezoned all the time. What could and should be happening, and what I’d like to see candidates commit to, is inclusionary zoning where a proportion of all those properties being built are dedicated to public and social housing,” Toohey says

The Victorian Council to Social Service, the CHP and a number of other peak bodies in the social sector, developed a joint plan this year: Making Social Housing Work. The plan proposes an investment of $200 million a year to create a minimum of 800 new social housing properties.

Toohey says the recommendations outlined in this plan are essential, yet there hasn’t been enough action taken at this point in the election campaign.

“I think both sides understand that we need to be doing something different in our approach to homelessness, but at this stage no one is willing to commit to anything.”

In a recent statement, Jennifer Kanis, the current Labor member for Melbourne, said the Napthine government is “failing” the 35,000 Victorians, 1,329 of them in the West Melbourne area, on the public housing wait list.

“These are people – families with children – sleeping in cars or couch surfing in the middle of winter and Minister Lovell (Current Minister for Housing) and Mr Napthine have done nothing to assist,” Kanis says.

However, while both Kanis and Sandell recognise the need for greater investment in public housing and affordable housing, their plans are not yet clear.

Toohey says the CHP’s election platform is based on the “really simple premises” of providing enough affordable houses for those on low income and giving them the support they need to remain in that accommodation.

“If we don’t have homes to get people into, then we’re going to have a hard time ending homelessness.”


To see where your electorate sits in regards to homelessness, click here.


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