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Homeless women and children left to sleep in cars as Canberra’s winter sets in

By Doug Dobing - 2 June 2017 18

Homelessness

The Government has been called on to urgently intervene in Canberra’s homelessness problem as winter sets in and increasing numbers of women and children are finding themselves without a home due to family conflict and violence.

ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur said that Canberra’s crisis accommodation services are failing to meet demand with reports of homeless women and children sleeping in cars.

She wants the Government to urgently investigate and support frontline services with prevention, early intervention crisis and longer-term programs.

“Despite our high standards of living, the ACT is home to the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia,” said Ms Le Couteur.

“With the first frosts of winter upon us, the ACT Greens are concerned to receive reports from a number of homelessness services in the Territory that suggest crisis accommodation services are unable to meet demand,” she said.

“This includes numerous reports of individuals sleeping in cars, including women and children.”

People experiencing homelessness can include those sleeping rough on the streets, living in a refuge or couch surfing with friends.

YWCA CEO Frances Crimmins said it is important to understand that women, particularly older women, tend to hide their homelessness. This is mainly due to their concerns for lack of safety if they are visible.

“They might actually be sleeping in a car. They may be couch surfing. They may be swapping domestic services or sadly in some cases sexual services, just to keep a roof over their head,” Ms Crimmins said.

“Because being out on the street, obviously there’s a higher level of risk for their personal safety,” she said.

“So whether it’s through divorce or the death of a partner, women can often find they lose the home that they were living in.”

The number of women experiencing homelessness is rising significantly. Some risk factors include being over the age of 45, renting and single.

Poverty, poor relationships, drugs, alcohol and mental health issues can also contribute to homelessness.

However, domestic violence is the biggest cause of homelessness in Australia.

“A lot of the women we support, as older women, have experienced violence. That’s a significant factor as well,” she said.

“If you don’t have a safe place to reside in, it obviously impacts every aspect of your life.

“Your health and well-being is going to be significantly impacted [and] your ability to find and maintain work.

“To actually find and actually engage in support and have support services around you – all of those things are not possible if you don’t have a safe roof over your head.

“So the first point we need to fix in our community is this issue of homelessness.”

Canberra’s higher than average incomes push up the cost of housing and cause upward pressure on rental prices. It also masks the extent of housing stress that’s in our community.

“Sadly, we have a lack of affordable rental properties in the ACT,” said Ms Crimmins.

It would be difficult for people with a part-time job, or who rely on a pension and have no savings to get into the commercial rent market, she said.

“We really do need to strengthen our specialist homelessness support services to make sure it is targeting the most vulnerable.”

The ACT Government has made a commitment that they are going to develop an affordable housing strategy.

ACT Youth Coalition Policy Director ACT Bec Cuzzillo said homelessness is a significant issue for young people in the ACT, one that is hidden.

“A lot of people would be surprised to find out that we have the highest rate of homelessness because you don’t necessarily see it on the street,” said Ms Cuzzillo.

Young people make up 26 per cent of the total homelessness population in the ACT.

According to 2011 census data, 466 people between the ages of 12-24 years were homeless on that night.

“Most young people that are homeless are couch surfing with friends,” Ms Cuzzillo said.

“That kind of insecurity is really problematic. Especially when you are talking about young people that might still be going to school. Young people who might be trying to keep a job,” she said.

“When [the] housing is so night-to-night, how are you meant to keep all those things in your life happening?”

“We know the main cause of youth homelessness is family conflict, family violence.”

“Most [young] people are escaping violence or choosing to leave home because they are having conflict with their family.”

“This is something that impacts our community in a really big way because the flow on effects of experiencing homelessness, impacts our health system, impacts our education system, impacts employment.”

“The community, Government and wider public need to be working on a whole range of issues.”

Are the government and the community doing enough to address Canberra’s homelessness problem? Do you have any suggestions to help with this distressing issue?  Let us know in the comments below.

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18 Responses to
Homeless women and children left to sleep in cars as Canberra’s winter sets in
Sandra Beba 12:18 pm 04 Jun 17

The government shut down a wonderful women and children homeless service last year that had been around for 33 years because of governance issues. The government came in had a look and shut it down without even trying to save it. 54 staff lost their jobs and around 200 clients were dealt out to other services. So many cuts to funding are always happening, there are hardly any services left, and hardly any jobs for workers. It’s also hard to get clients into ACT housing as they’re tightening their criteria which makes it hard for a lot of people to get their own home. Services are struggling due to low staff and low funding. The government didn’t care last year when they shut our service down, they’re just trying to get rid of little services to make one big one. But what happens when someone doesn’t fit that services criteria? What’s left for them? It’s awfully depressing, I need a job, I love helping women and children but there’s hardly any work and hardly any services to work for anymore. The amount of calls services like OneLink take a day is astounding, women with babies have nowhere to go and there’s nothing we can do. Sorry for my rambling, this whole topic makes my blood boil, I’ve worked in this industry for so long and there’s so many wonderful Canberrans that want to help but truly don’t know how bad the problem is because it’s kept so hidden! Women and children are escaping DV everyday in ACT with NOWHERE to go and the government keeps shutting services due to mess of NDIS and not going out into the field to see what’s really going on, and the struggles we as workers face trying to assist these HUMANS.

Doc Dogg 11:34 am 04 Jun 17

pdpd said :

There appears to be an excess of vacant commercial properties around the Canberra CBD.

Why not the Government rent some of this property and repurpose it to create temp dormitory style accommodation. With imagination this could also include co-located social and medical services to assist those with underlying problems.

I can think of a few reasons.

The he Crown Leases purpose clause doesn’t allow that sort of accommodation in the majority of the vacant buildings.

The people that own the buildings would charge the government far too much to rent the space.

The people already living in the city would go bananas over having so many undesirable people so close to there expensive apartments.

pdpd 8:19 pm 03 Jun 17

There appears to be an excess of vacant commercial properties around the Canberra CBD.

Why not the Government rent some of this property and repurpose it to create temp dormitory style accommodation. With imagination this could also include co-located social and medical services to assist those with underlying problems.

Damien Haas 7:00 pm 03 Jun 17

Anna M Minson said :

Why are we debating what’s better for men versus women?

We must turn our eyes to the issue at hand: how to we support our community who are living rough? How do we connect with these men, women and children to keep them warm?

I’m happy to play my hand: I want to help, but I don’t know what is best.

How do I best support my community who are facing homelessness this winter?

AM.

Best comment in this thread.

What concrete ways can *we* assist?

Damien Haas 6:59 pm 03 Jun 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

This problem has surely been made worse by the government’s recent decision to move public housing residents from Northbourne Avenue to locations across the suburbs. They hurriedly evicted everybody to hasten the money making process of selling the valuable property in the tram corridor. What they didn’t do was plan ahead and build the accommodation facilities so they had somewhere to go to. Instead, they have now used up all of the available vacant housing stock which left them with nowhere to put new homeless families. Did they not see back at the last election, that the tram construction process would start in 2016? If so, they should have already anticipated the need for more public housing and made arrangements to purchase or build such housing many years ago, after they had their electoral victory. But in typical A.C.T Labor narrow mindedness, the focus was on justifying to the electorate why they had to spend so much money on a train, instead of concentrating on the issues at hand, knuckling down to plan and build vital accommodation units so that the vulnerable in the community had a warm bed to sleep in.
I am so sick and tired of this government’s ineptitude, self indulgent and non-consultative approach to governing the people. We voted them in and if they don’t listen to our voices, we will vote them out as well. Unfortunately for the homeless, another three years is too long to wait.

Arrant nonsense, again, from a repeat offender.
There is a program specifically to relocate tenants in accordance with their needs and desires, where practicable – and a replacement public housing program that has new accommodation that is better quality than the hovels that the people are moving from.

rommeldog56 9:58 am 03 Jun 17

rommeldog56 said :

IMHO, the ACT Labor/Greens Govt’s avg. 20% increase in Annual Rates in 2016-17 and 15% in 2017-18 & then reverting to the programmed avg 10% increase pa forever, isn’t helping the homelessness aspire to get into their own place. Those sorts of increases flow into rents !

I forgot to add that those Annual Rates increases are for Units (and townhouses ?).

rommeldog56 8:20 am 03 Jun 17

Anna M Minson said :

We must turn our eyes to the issue at hand: how to we support our community who are living rough? How do we connect with these men, women and children to keep them warm? I’m happy to play my hand: I want to help, but I don’t know what is best. How do I best support my community who are facing homelessness this winter?.

Good on you for wanting to help !

Many homeless people have disability, drug and/or mental health issues. They are people – with frailties, feelings, loved ones, hopes and aspirations. Very, very few choose to be homeless – especially in a Canberra winter.

There are homeless shelters – check with your local church – they may know where they are, and if u can volunteer to help. There is or was a soup kitchen type arrangement for the homeless in Canberra – in Civic I believe – unless it has been forced out with the development. In the (old) Griffin Centre perhaps ? I forget what his name is, but there is an ex Uniting Church (Kippax) minister who was elected to ACT Legislative Assembly as a Labor Member, he might know. In fact, you would that that person would be most vocal about this issue !!

Is “Volunteering Australia” still going ? If so, they might know.

Do any Rioters know please ??

Alternatively, do as I and many others do, volunteer as a once a week carer for a person with a disability. Not quite the same as being homeless, but very rewarding anyway.

IMHO, the ACT Labor/Greens Govt’s avg. 20% increase in Annual Rates in 2016-17 and 15% in 2017-18 & then reverting to the programmed avg 10% increase pa forever, isn’t helping the homelessness aspire to get into their own place. Those sorts of increases flow into rents !

i’ve heard the Chief Minister say a number of times that he wants Canberra to be the “Coolest Capital” – he doesn’t mean by temperature either. Trouble is, for such an affluent place, too many people, like the homeless, are being left behind. We have lost the plot in Canberra – I mean voters too.

wildturkeycanoe 6:36 am 03 Jun 17

This problem has surely been made worse by the government’s recent decision to move public housing residents from Northbourne Avenue to locations across the suburbs. They hurriedly evicted everybody to hasten the money making process of selling the valuable property in the tram corridor. What they didn’t do was plan ahead and build the accommodation facilities so they had somewhere to go to. Instead, they have now used up all of the available vacant housing stock which left them with nowhere to put new homeless families. Did they not see back at the last election, that the tram construction process would start in 2016? If so, they should have already anticipated the need for more public housing and made arrangements to purchase or build such housing many years ago, after they had their electoral victory. But in typical A.C.T Labor narrow mindedness, the focus was on justifying to the electorate why they had to spend so much money on a train, instead of concentrating on the issues at hand, knuckling down to plan and build vital accommodation units so that the vulnerable in the community had a warm bed to sleep in.
I am so sick and tired of this government’s ineptitude, self indulgent and non-consultative approach to governing the people. We voted them in and if they don’t listen to our voices, we will vote them out as well. Unfortunately for the homeless, another three years is too long to wait.

Doug Dobing 9:52 pm 02 Jun 17

Glynis, that is so true to remember that behind each statistic is a person, facing harsh circumstances. And in an affluent city such as Canberra, we still have the second highest homelessness rate in Australia. Canberra brags about human rights impacting all ACT Government decisions; housing is a basic human right.

Maryann Mussared 5:50 pm 02 Jun 17

I would like to see the ACT Government genuinely seek to solve this problem, even if it means putting a hold on Stage 2 of the Light Rail, and cutting back on some big public events.

Anna M Minson 3:43 pm 02 Jun 17

Why are we debating what’s better for men versus women?

We must turn our eyes to the issue at hand: how to we support our community who are living rough? How do we connect with these men, women and children to keep them warm?

I’m happy to play my hand: I want to help, but I don’t know what is best.

How do I best support my community who are facing homelessness this winter?

AM.

Glynis Quinlan 2:12 pm 02 Jun 17

Thanks for writing such a great article on such an important topic, Doug. In a city as affluent as Canberra no one should be homeless and yet the problem is so bad that the crisis services can’t keep up with it. Behind every statistic is a person who is facing harsh circumstances that they have often had no control over. Addressing homelessness should be a top priority for our government and our community. I for one am happy to have worse roads and less facilities if it means that everyone has a roof over their heads. I am sure most people feel the same way. To the ACT Government -please take urgent action on this issue!

Garfield 11:31 am 02 Jun 17

Lucy Baker said :

Isn’t there a local service where homeless men can have a warm bed five nights a week? Why hasn’t this been extended to include women?

My information may be out of date, but last time I read about homelessness in the ACT, government services for women and children were much better than services for men. As such, the vast majority of people in need of last minute emergency beds, such as those now available at various churches, are men. Homeless women turning up to those churches you’ve mentioned are referred to the police who find accommodation for them with the various women’s homeless services.

Doug Dobing 11:31 am 02 Jun 17

Thanks Lucy. Safe Shelter ACT works with All Saints Anglican (Ainslie), St Collumbas Uniting Church (Braddon) and The Salvation Army (Braddon) to provide a safe warm place for homeless men, five nights a week. Yes, it would be great to see a service like that to be extended to help homeless women!

Lucy Baker 10:15 am 02 Jun 17

Isn’t there a local service where homeless men can have a warm bed five nights a week? Why hasn’t this been extended to include women?

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