Last year I backpacked through much of Africa and South America and was often overwhelmed by the extreme poverty and the gross inequality that I saw.
I came back to Australia and was ecstatic that I could drink water from the tap, reasonably assume my shower would be hot and easily get a latte from the café down the road.
But it didn’t take long after I resumed my work in the community service sector to be reminded that despite Australia’s huge wealth, poverty exists right under our noses.
In Victoria alone there are nearly 25,000 people experiencing some kind of homelessness.
Not only that - there are close to 40,000 households on the social housing waitlist, which actually translates into 82,499 people who are living in housing stress and at risk of becoming homeless.
The Parliamentary Inquiry into the Public Housing Renewal Program estimates that this number grows by 500 people every month.
All I can think is, “How can it be?”
There is no reason that so many people need to be homeless or living in poverty in a country as rich as Australia.
Students shouldn’t be couch surfing until they are at risk of suicide.
Elderly women shouldn’t be living in their cars.
Mothers shouldn’t be living in motels wondering if it would just be easier to return to their violent partner.
And yet they are.
This week is National Homelessness Week – a week dedicated to raising awareness about homelessness and what we can do to end it.
It may surprise some to know that we in the community services sector actually have a pretty good idea about how to do this.
Unfortunately, neither of the major political parties at any level of government have seriously come to the table yet.
After months and years of the community sector pleading for more affordable homes, both the Victorian and Federal governments passed budgets this year that failed to offer a strategy to deliver more social housing.
This is despite Anglicare Australia’s 2018 Rental Affordability Report finding that less than 0.01% of housing across the country was affordable for a single person on Newstart or Youth allowance, including living in a share house. Less than 0.01%.
On top of that, the Federal Government recently signed a renewed version of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement that didn’t add a single extra dollar to ending homelessness and absolved themselves of any responsibility to develop a national housing strategy.
The truth is, if the Federal and State Governments in this country really wanted to end homelessness and poverty, they could. They know how. We have told them.
We need a revamp of negative gearing and the capital gains tax to reduce speculative investing that drives up property prices.
We need state governments to make private developers set aside sections of new housing developments as social housing. In the current housing market, the current model of suggesting developers set aside 10% of housing in some developments just isn’t cutting it.
We need governments at all levels to commit to long-term, bipartisan social housing strategies.
At The Salvation Army, we calculate that we need 3,000 new social housing properties every year for the next 30 years in Victoria to deal with the social housing waitlist and plan for expected population growth.
An investment like that can’t be achieved by one government. We need bi-partisan and long-term support from State and Federal Governments. We need it now.
Over 80,000 people and counting are homeless or close to becoming homeless in Victoria alone.
How much worse does this have to get before the Governments of our day choose to put politics aside and really do something about homelessness?
The theme for Homelessness Week this year is “Ending Homelessness Together.”
The community sector can’t end homelessness on its own; but we can end homelessness with Governments’ help.
Because Governments can do something about it. It just takes political will.
If you want the Government to help us end homelessness, sign on to the Everybody’s Home Campaign and call your local MP.
Kate Mecham is a Policy Officer for The Salvation Army Victoria Social Programme and Policy Unit