Some relief, but need for a roof over every head is dire
The social and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has made adequate social housing a more urgent need than ever, Catholic welfare organisations have told a government inquiry.
The federal parliamentary inquiry into homelessness was launched in Canberra this month to examine the factors that contribute to people becoming homeless, identify opportunities to prevent homelessness, and examine ways to better support the homeless and those at risk.
The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council told the inquiry that it appreciated governments’ responses to COVID-19 to prevent homelessness and temporarily house the homeless, such as a moratorium on evictions and rental assistance. But it was concerned about the longer-term welfare of those who may find themselves back on the streets as the pandemic wanes.
The Society believed a ‘housing first’ but not ‘housing only’ approach was most effective in preventing and addressing homelessness, chief executive officer Toby oConnor said. “Strategies are needed to transition people to appropriate and long-term accommodation, with case-managed support,” he wrote in a submission.
“Housing cannot be addressed in isolation – access to health and other social support services is essential.”
However with 190,000 households already on waiting lists for social housing, the shortfall meant that the country had “gone backwards” with respect to meeting the existing demand, let alone being able to respond adequately to projected growth, the Society warned.
Jesuit Social Services is calling on the Australian Government to recognise the importance of social housing as social and public infrastructure.
“The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the wake of the bushfire crisis has both highlighted and exacerbated the existing structural inequalities across Australia with regard to the well-documented under-supply of public and community-based social housing stock,” it said.
It wants to see enhanced measures including funding allocations to support the state and territory governments in addressing the gap between the demand for social housing and the existing supply.
Jesuit Refugee Services said research indicates that homelessness is a “serious problem” among people seeking asylum in Australia.
“Based on a number of statistical factors, as well as our experience in our drop-in centres in Western Sydney, we note a significant number of people seeking asylum that are at risk of or are experiencing homelessness,” it said.
“For most people seeking asylum, they are able to access even less than 0.8 to 2.2 per cent of properties on the private rental market as they are ineligible for Jobseeker or parenting payments and eligibility for Status Resolution Support Services [payments] is severely restricted.
“In any case, the financial support offered under the SRSS program is not enough to meet average weekly rental payments in a city like Sydney and to simultaneously meet other essential expenses.
“While there is a need for emergency accommodation for people who are sleeping rough or women and children at risk of domestic and family violence, the greatest need is for people to be able to access services that help them secure long-term affordable housing.”