How many tragic deaths will it take before we take meaningful action and formulate a clear national housing strategy to end homelessness?
As a society we have to face the facts – there is a chronic failure in our society that results in people being out in the cold, vulnerable and isolated.
The violent death last week of Courtney Herron brought the issue to life yet again. How many more times do we need to be reminded?
And then we read the media reports that stereotype those who fall through the housing cracks as a result of substance abuse, mental health and other issues. As if somehow, she was totally to blame for her own vulnerability. This does not help us address the problem and in some ways, helps us to justify (and for some of us subconsciously) an excuse.
We see this time and again. Where are the stories about the talents, the dreams, the possibilities that every person like Courtney has had at a point in their life? On how they want to change the world for the better.
But then shit happens. Life is not perfect. We all have issues that challenge us through our life. And it can happen to anyone. But some of us are fortunate to have an extended network of family or friends. But some of us don’t. And we feel we have no one.
The reality is, when an individual faces challenges in their life that tests their purpose of being, without a safe place to gather your thoughts and without people around you that care about your wellbeing, those dreams and possibilities have nowhere to go. You become lonely and isolated.
Without a stable and safe place to call home, how can an individual form a productive life? How can they work, study or raise a family properly? Shelter is a fundamental human need and if it is not provided, we have unintended consequences that have both social and economic impacts.
Studies have shown that homelessness is the catalyst for a raft of issues including physical and mental health problems, interpersonal violence, increased policing and justice requirements and then long-term welfare dependency. It becomes a very expensive economic burden to society as a whole, because we wait for the costs to multiply over years rather than investing in fixing the problem. People need to be housed. Whether they are rich or poor.
So, what do we do? Well, I have had enough. I am not waiting for governments anymore. I have become cynical and accept that governments’ only objective is to do things that they believe win votes.
Now I have formed that clear view, I no longer have any expectation that government will properly address the problem. So, I decided if I want change, then I need to get off my butt and engage the private sector to make it happen. That is why we have formed Housing All Australians.
Housing All Australians is a private sector for purpose organisation that believes it is in Australia’s long-term economic interest to provide housing for all its people; rich or poor. It was established to facilitate a private sector voice (and solutions) and to reposition the discussion from an economic lens.
It advocates that the provision of housing for all Australians is just as important economic infrastructure as the provision of roads, schools and hospitals. There is significant economic payback for society in the prevention of the unintended long term consequences arising from the lack of availability of affordable, social and public housing. And we are not waiting for government.
We recognise that our country’s chronic shortage of affordable, social and public housing is creating an intergenerational economic and social time bomb to face in the future. And the fuse is burning.
HAA has enlisted some of Australia’s corporate elite in supporting its ideas and endeavours to assist those in need.
Working closely with not-for-profit and community organisations we have already shown the value of some innovative and collaborative approaches with the use of a vacant buildings, such as the Lakehouse in Melbourne, as temporary crisis accommodation.
The Lakehouse was an empty aged care facility undergoing a long re-development process. With the goodwill, kindness and generosity of the property sector, the Lakehouse was refurbished on a pro bono basis, and is now providing a safe, warm and empowering place to call home for more than 30 women over 55 years of age, 80 per cent of which have experienced family violence.
Women over 55 are the fastest growing demographic of those becoming homeless, and violence against women, including family violence, is a major driver for the growing number of homeless women. It is a disgrace.
The creation of these pop up shelters is not a long term solution. It is a private sector response to a country in crisis. Our cities have thousands of similar buildings standing empty, while more and more people are finding themselves on the streets.
Once on the streets or existing with insecure arrangements such as couch-surfing, women remain vulnerable to further violence, and in Courtney’s case this was fatal.
The private sector needs to lead this country out of this malaise and come together with the general community to develop and find new solutions to ensure that every Australian has a safe, secure place to call home. The provision of housing for all Australians is the fundamental economic platform on which our future success will be based.
We need to act and we need to act now. It will take decades to fix the shortfall that currently exists. I really don’t want to read another story about another woman (or man) who’s life has tragically ended too early.
Enough is enough.
This article was published in The Fifth Estate.
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