Today is the start of Homelessness Week, an event held annually since its official start in 2007 during the first full week of August. This year’s theme is: ‘It’s time to end homelessness’. Events and activities will take place across the country until Sunday.
The Northern Rivers has an alarming number of homeless people and Byron Bay in particular has the highest rate of rough sleepers in NSW – a recent count of rough sleepers across the region recorded 1,623 people sleeping rough with around 300 of those people in the Byron Shire.
Homelessness Australia hosts Homelessness Week annually to raise awareness of the impact of homelessness, and the solutions needed to end homelessness.
Addressing the drivers of homelessness
The St Vincent de Paul Society (Vinnies) NSW is calling for action to address drivers of homelessness including inadequate income support payments, a shortage of affordable housing, specialist services stretched to capacity as well as people remaining in unsafe living conditions due to a lack of viable alternatives.
Demand for assistance from St Vincent de Paul Society NSW’s homelessness and housing services has increased over the past year as a result of the worsening cost of living and housing crises.
St Vincent de Paul Society NSW CEO, Yolanda Saiz, says the organisation’s homelessness and housing services assisted 9,024 people in the past financial year, and increase of 4.9 per cent from 12 months earlier. ‘The Society’s capacity to meet the soaring demand for assistance has concerningly been stretched with unassisted requests for support from our homelessness and housing services increasing by 81 per cent to 2,690 over the past year.
‘We have been able to secure stable accommodation for 53 per cent of people supported by our Specialist Homelessness Services, 50 per cent of clients at risk of homelessness were assisted to maintain housing, while 40 per cent of people who were homeless prior to receiving support are now in stable housing.’
Leading reason domestic and family violence
Ms Saiz says the leading reasons for people seeking assistance from St Vincent de Paul Society NSW services were: Domestic and Family Violence (29.1per cent); Housing Crisis, e.g. eviction (15.9 per cent); Inadequate or Inappropriate housing conditions (8.7 per cent); Housing affordability, e.g. rental increase (8.2 per cent); and relationship / family breakdown (7.4 per cent).
More than 57,000 applicants – the equivalent of 125,000 people – are currently on the waitlist for social housing in NSW.
Research commissioned by the Society from UNSW last year revealed that the NSW Government could reduce the NSW social housing waiting list by three-quarters by building 5,000 new social housing dwellings every year for a decade.
Ms Saiz says addressing homelessness requires a long-term approach from all levels of government, business and the community. ‘This would ensure that people have the basic standards of living that we expect of society.’