September 25, 2018

Housing a human right

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Vincent Long launched the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement 2018-19 on 6 September. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Australia’s Catholic bishops have called on all levels of government and the community to work together to address rising rates of homelessness and housing stress, and assert the value of housing as a basic human right.

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Vincent Long released the Australian Catholic Bishops Council social justice statement for 2018-19 today with CEO of the Society of St Vincent de Paul Jack de Groot and CEO of CatholicCare Melbourne Netty Horton.

Bishop Long paid tribute to the many diocesan services, charity organisations, lay associations and religious communities and others who work for the homeless and those in insecure accommodation.

While the institutional Church has been “accused of lacking in love, compassion, and even acting with hypocrisy, especially in relation to victims of sexual abuse” it was “in a spirit of humility and repentance we leaders must join with all the baptised to reclaim the Church that shines as a beacon of hope for the world, a Church that has no equal on the planet in terms of its outreach to the poor and the marginalised,” he said.

The bishops’ statement, titled A Place to Call Home: Making a home for everyone in our land, points out that currently more than 116,000 people in Australia are homeless and 875,000 experience housing stress, which is defined as paying more than 30 per cent of their income on accommodation.

In addition, there is a shortage of community and social housing, while specialist homelessness services are struggling to meet demand for emergency accommodation and support.

This is a violation of the human right to housing as asserted in Catholic teaching and in the UN Declaration of Human Rights to which Australia is a signatory, they say.

Particularly vulnerable to homelessness include families escaping domestic violence, people with mental illness, older women, the unemployed and low paid workers, ex-prisoners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and refugees and asylum seekers.

At the launch Mr de Groot called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make housing affordability his priority.

“This is a moral, ethical, and economic challenge,” he said.

“We are a rich nation, an advanced economy, and the level of denial in this society is breathtaking.”

Bishop Long also highlighted the plight of an estimated 7000 asylum seekers living in the community who will have had or will have their Status Resolution Support Service payments cut off in the coming months.

“It is hard enough for anyone to find a job, but with limited skills and limited English so many will find it that much harder and will only have 28 days notice that their meagre allowance and other support will be cut off,” he said.

The bishops recommend a range of measures including increasing assistance payments for low-income groups, increasing social and community housing, and addressing the structural issues that drive up prices, for example by improving policies on negative gearing and tax concessions.

For the Church and community they recommend welcoming the homeless or housing-stressed in parishes, raising awareness of the issue, and supporting organisations such as CatholicCare, St Vincent de Paul, and the newly formed Australian Catholic Housing Alliance (ACHA).

The Church will celebrate Social Justice Sunday on 30 September and the full statement can be found at www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au

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