Large scale homelessness on the Central Coast seems to have crept up on us, but the factors that leave at least 8,000 local people homeless have been growing for over a decade.
Community leaders who focus on solutions to the crisis are calling for a coordinated plan involving all governments, agencies, service providers and property developers.
Short-term solutions to the current crisis have been innovative, although many argue that they are not directly addressing the causes of homelessness in the community.
There are multiple solutions employed by service providers and governments to respond to homelessness with different solutions responding at different stages of the journey, from early intervention for the at-risk and immediate crisis relief to short and long-term solutions in both health and housing.
For Coast Shelter CEO, Michael Starr, intervention is about education to avoid the circumstances that often lead to homelessness, the number one precursor he identifies being domestic and family violence.
“The approach we’ve taken for the last couple of years is (looking at) what can we do earlier on for young people in our schools that are at high risk towards facing homelessness and experiencing domestic and family violence.
“We operate a healthy relationships program in around 30 schools across the Coast called Love Bites – it’s about that early intervention piece around respect, healthy decision making, consequences for actions as well, and it’s quite well accepted by the local education community.”
The program takes seriously the costly effects of homelessness, on the individual, community and taxpayer and responds by prioritizing identification and outreach before homelessness starts.
For the Greens Abigail Boyd MLC, who initiated the recent NSW State Inquiry into Homelessness amongst older people aged over 55, resources should be put toward identification and early intervention.
“We often overlook the negative impact on people who find themselves homeless for a period of time – the mental health impacts, the disruption to jobs, to family, to relationships, to community connections,” Boyd said.
“If you can get in before that happens, when someone is about to become homeless, give them a house then help with the wrap-around support, you avoid those additional problems when you allow someone to fall into homelessness in the first place.”
This ‘housing first’ approach offers the stability of a permanent new home instead of a succession of temporary solutions such as crisis accommodation and transitional housing, yet in implementation, there are difficulties surrounding funding and support.
In the eyes of the Practice Manager CatholicCare’s Central Coast support programs, Sean Mackinnon, without the resources to fund effective wrap-around services, the personal circumstances that drive people into homelessness remain unchecked and continue to dog the individual.
“From a government’s perspective they want to see tenants with sustained support otherwise it would undermine what is trying to be achieved, yet it’s difficult if you don’t have the resources to support that,” McKinnon said.
“At the end of the day it’s about housing sustainability: mental health is a massive factor, people are disconnected from family support, dealing with intergenerational trauma and there’s a need for addiction specialists too because our rehabs are full.
“It’s difficult for these people (in emergency accommodation programs) to access the private rental market, particularly at the moment, because the market doesn’t want to inherit these challenges – as a landlord you want to be sure you will have your rent paid and your home looked after.”
With an explicit need to address the health concerns that impact a person’s housing stability prior to and during homelessness, an increase in housing stock remains the number one long-term solution identified by those who work in the homelessness and housing sectors.
Pacific Link Housing CEO, Ian Lynch works to add to the supply of social and affordable housing and provide secure homes for tenants, although notes multiple challenges in creating the necessary stock.
“The main challenges across the board in NSW is funding: construction costs are significantly increasing beyond all expectations, the access to equity to build new supply is the key issue that is holding back significant new supply coming in.
“Another issue is access to land and sites that are suitable for providing social and affordable housing.
“Whilst the Central Coast is an incredibly beautiful place to live, it’s quite challenging from a development perspective. There is a range of local and environmental planning issues that need to be overcome in development.
“Certainly infrastructure, access to land and overcoming planning difficulties is right up there alongside the funding issue.”
For Boyd, overcoming these challenges requires the governments of today prioritizing this issue in their budgets.
“There is no excuse for not making a massive investment in public housing. We can’t expect the market to solve homelessness and so we need to take a big chunk of our housing out of the market.
“We do that through acquiring and building more public housing and I don’t think there are any shortcuts around that.”
One thing community leaders recognise is the need for a comprehensive plan rather than piecemeal responses. Responses that have so far proven inadequate in solving the region’s largest and growing social problem.