COVID-19 compounds social housing shortfall

Opening a social housing property at Point Clare in 2019

With recent data revealing 1,000 people are homeless on the Central Coast, welfare groups are adding their voice to calls for more social housing in the region during Homelessness Week (August 2-8).

Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, said the data, from Homelessness Australia, also showed a shortfall of 6,500 social housing dwellings on the Coast and ramped up calls for the Federal Government to fund the construction of more.

“This would be a win-win,” McBride said.

“It would provide work for thousands of tradies and put a roof over the head of Australians who desperately need it.”

McBride said the COVID-19 crisis had emphasised how important safe and affordable housing is.

“In the last few months, more than 7,000 people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough have been provided with a bed in one of the many empty motel and hotel rooms,” she said.

“The National Cabinet needs to make sure that the homeless Australians we helped at the height of the pandemic are not thrown back on the street in the next few months.”

Coast Shelter CEO, Rachael Willis, said the organisation had seen significant increases in the number of people needing help during the pandemic.

“This month alone the number of phones calls for help have doubled since the same time last year,” she said.

“We are seeing more women and children seeking help and looking for a safe place to stay than ever before.

“Women escaping domestic and family violence continue to reach out in large numbers to us seeking a place to stay and the specialist support services we offer to help them escape the horrific domestic and family violence.

“We are certainly seeing the gap between supply and demand on the Central Coast continue to widen … and we are big supporters of the Every Body’s Home campaign this year and the call for more social and affordable housing to be built in our community.

“With a 10 year plus waiting list for social housing across the Central Coast we need to (provide) more social and affordable housing options.”

Coast Community Connections President, Sharryn Brownlee, said the effect the COVID-19 pandemic is having on homelessness across the Central Coast is much larger than most people realise.

“(There is a) dramatic increase in demand for support services as families and youth across the Central Coast grapple with the social, mental and economic impacts of COVID-19,” she said.

“According to the latest ABS statistics, young people aged 15- 24 have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic with youth unemployment in Australia soaring to 16.4% in June.

“This, combined with recent changes to government subsidies such as the Rent Choice program, have compounded the financial stresses faced by people struggling to keep a roof over their head.

“The thing about homelessness is that it is an issue that is largely hidden at the moment.

“What most people are not aware of is the amount of people who might be living in a caravan in a friend’s backyard, or ‘couch surfing’ from house to house in an attempt to just keep a roof over their head.

“Homelessness Week is a timely reminder that ‘everyone deserves a home’ and across our range of services including youth, families, aged care and our community centre, we are dedicated to ensuring we can be a reliable support network for Central Coast residents.”

Terry Collins