By Mikayla van Loon
Finding a long term home is difficult in the best circumstances let alone when facing homelessness.
And in the Yarra Ranges it is even more challenging to find safe, secure and stable housing when the prospects of social and public housing are minimal.
Anchor’s CEO Heidi Tucker said the homelessness crisis both in the Yarra Ranges and around, not only, the state but the country is related to the 80,000 Australians waiting for social housing.
“There is very, very little social housing in the Yarra Ranges, very little. There’s certainly not the availability for people who would want to live there, there is the occasional one but it’s very scarce,” she said.
“It’s related to the underinvestment in public housing for more than a decade in Victoria. It’s also related to probably all the people falling through the cracks with mental health services particularly.
“I think there are a lot of people who have that dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction, particularly to alcohol and I think it is fair to say in the last ten years the services in those areas have probably decreased and are under-represented in the Yarra Ranges.”
Ms Tucker said the part of the solution to the homelessness crisis is to provide permanent housing at an affordable rate.
“I would say that permanent housing is desperately needed and looking at state statistics, they show and I’m going to say I think Yarra Ranges has about 0.9 per cent of social housing from memory.
“Somewhere like the north, like Melton, anywhere between three and five per cent of the whole stock is social housing. So you’re very underdone in that area and have been for many years.”
Public housing is just part of the housing equation but Ms Tucker said emergency accommodation also needs to be a priority in the shire.
“[The Yarra Ranges] doesn’t have any, it simply has none,” she said.
“We don’t have any crisis accommodation and we certainly don’t have a youth refuge, we don’t have a refuge type thing that you could just walk in and stay the night.”
Although Ms Tucker said churches play a big role in emergency accommodation, it is not widespread or known about by many people who need a place to sleep.
Part of Anchor’s role is to assess someone’s situation and help them find the next step, which includes offering them a night in motel accommodation if they have nowhere else to go.
“The caveat to this is that priority is always given to women and children and so the actual support available to a single male or a single female or a couple with children is very, very limited throughout the whole system, throughout Australia actually,” Ms Tucker said.
“If a woman and her children come in we will do everything possible to get them into shelter for the night, into a motel.”
And while those emergency shelters and accommodation solutions are important, Ms Tucker said it doesn’t help someone in the long term.
“Emergency accommodation is one thing and it is certainly part of a continuum of housing but it’s not the answer. So getting someone in for the night, ok that gives them a night of opportunity but in fact what changes people’s lives is actually a long term home.
“Just to rely on emergency accommodation might just mean a revolving door, if they’ve got nowhere to go to make their home, then it’s just a revolving door and we’re not really doing anything useful for anyone.”
Ms Tucker said often when people have nowhere else to go it’s because they are escaping violence and emergency accommodation will keep them safe for a night but getting them to the next stage of transitional housing is what Anchor works towards.
Transitional housing is the transition between homelessness and long term accommodation in a social housing setting, where the cost of living in that home is only 25 per cent of a Centrelink benefit.
“While people are in transitional housing what we’re also trying to do with them is try and look at their other issues, possibly issues of addiction, family violence, children may have a disability.
“There’s often a lot of other issues that are travelling with people, with these families and individuals and we try to link them into other services.”
But linking people to those services can be challenging when they are not readily available.
Ms Tucker said the Yarra Ranges doesn’t lend itself to well placed services with a lack of public transportation and such a large area to provide for.
“When you look at these issues, they are complex. Things like public transport feeds into this, socio-economic status, jobs and availability of jobs, it all integrates together, coordinates together to cause these perfect storms at the other end.”
Another hurdle Anchor has been trying to overcome is the perception of the Yarra Ranges as the wealthy, leafy, winery region and the idea that homelessness can and does occur in the area.
In trying to fix this, Anchor has been working with Yarra Ranges Council and the Salvation Army on a pilot outreach project to engage with rough sleepers in the Yarra Ranges.
“In the Yarra Ranges there does tend to be a lot of rough sleepers. You would think ‘city’ but in fact in the Yarra Ranges there’s lots of places for people to hide,” Ms Tucker said.
“I might admit that if I were homeless I’d probably want to be somewhere like the Yarra Ranges because it’s safer, you can go into the national parks or you can find little places to park your car if you live in your car, that sort of stuff, it is a lot safer than in the city.”
Anchor offers a number of services, whether that be providing funds to top up someone’s private rent or helping people apply for Centrelink payments they didn’t know were available to them.
Ms Tucker said people can self refer themselves for help but most of the time they are notified through Centrelink, hospitals and sometimes jails about someone in need of assistance.
For housing support services within Anchor, call them on 03 9760 6400, email email@example.com or visit them at Box Hill Institute – Lilydale Lakeside Campus, Jarlo Drive, Lilydale.