Is it a coincidence that national Anti-Poverty Week starts on the calendar the week right where Responsible Gambling Awareness Week finished off? Or that the week where we look at homelessness also falls the week after Mental Health Week?
One would have to say that two of the main contributing factors to homelessness are gambling and mental health.
Nothing makes poverty and homelessness more poignantly apparent than six days of solid rain. There’s nothing quite so sad as a homeless person bedraggled and wet.
It’s becoming far too common. I saw it today on my way into work – a man huddled on a step with a blanket around him, right in the centre of Mullumbimby.
Why? Who can afford to live in Mullum? I can’t. I can’t afford to live in Mullum or Byron or even far-flung New Brighton. If your income is marginal and, or if you are having other issues in your life, like mental health problems, chances are you won’t be able to live in the Byron Shire. Or not for long – not in a house anyway.
A few years ago I was living pretty much four weeks from homelessness at any given time. If I had broken my leg and was out of work, I would have been stuffed.
Then, my landlord put my rent up from $540 to $590 a week. I’d lived in the house for almost 12 years and I was a good tenant but he could get a higher rent, so he did.
I got to the point where I just had enough and had to leave the area. I was struggling each week to pay rent, let alone bills and necessities. I left friends, family and work opportunities behind.
Homelessness is a massive problem in hippy heaven. Pull your head out of your butt and look around.
And you know what? Airbnb is not the only problem. Every house I have lived in for the past 20 years in the Byron Shire has been someone’s second house. Or third or fourth. How do these people get all the houses? Chance are some schmuck like me paid the mortgage.
The north coast’s lack of affordable rental accommodation is a key driver of household poverty and homelessness, and the situation is unlikely to improve until more housing is available for people on lower incomes.
St Vincent de Paul Society’s north coast executive officer Michael Timbrell says Anti-Poverty Week is a time to reflect on some of the greatest challenges facing society.
‘On the north coast, every local government area (LGA) has a child poverty rate of about 20 per cent, with a total of more than 80,000 people experiencing poverty, and a further 38,500 being at risk of it,’ he said. ‘Rental affordability is a chronic problem, leaving many people homeless or on the verge of homelessness, struggling to support their families. The recent Affordable Housing Income Gap report produced by Compass Housing Services showed that five of the six most unaffordable LGAs for rentals in regional NSW are in the north coast.’
The least affordable area was Byron Shire, where median rent was $590 per week – my ex-landlord was spot on. ‘The weekly household income required to cover this rent without experiencing housing stress – defined as more than one-third of household income – was $1,967, whereas actual median income was only $1,218. This means 48 per cent of income is needed to cover the median rent.
The other north coast LGAs facing rental stress were Ballina, Clarence Valley, Tweed Shire, Coffs Harbour, and Port Macquarie.
‘This means a high number of renters are facing housing insecurity, even homelessness, and rely on modest incomes or government support to cover basics such as food, school costs and high power bills,’ said Mr Timbrell.
‘St Vincent de Paul Society support centres see many people who are at risk of falling through the net. We do our best to help but rent takes a large slice of their budget, and without a secure home many households, often with young children, are extremely vulnerable.
‘In this Anti-Poverty Week we join with like-minded organisations to advocate for concrete measures by government, including a national housing strategy, the urgent construction of more social and affordable housing, and tax reforms in the housing market.’
What can you do? How many houses do you actually need? And of those houses, how much rent do you actually need? Is your mental health issue greed?
You’d better go see someone about that.
St Vincent de Paul Society is a Principal National Sponsor of Anti-Poverty Week, 14-20 October 2018. Visit www.antipovertyweek.org.au for more information.