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Affordable housing must be our focus, not vilifying rough sleepers

“Embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without health care and, above all, 
those without hope of a better future” (Pope St John-Paul II)   
We need to focus on the availability of safe, affordable and secure housing, rather than vilify people who don’t have adequate access to housing. But comment and media coverage on rough sleepers in Melbourne has tended to focus on the short term. The Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is to propose ban on sleeping rough in City of Melbourne and Victoria Police's Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton is accusing Melbourne CBD rough sleepers of pretending to be homeless. The media in Melbourne has been running headlines like the following.


However, many of these people need a safe, affordable home in a friendly community, and some need decent regular work. Others need specialist attention. We are not talking about rubbish that needs to be 'cleaned out'.

In response, leaders of 36 Victorian homelessness, housing and social services organisations have released an open letter appealing for a shift in the conversation away from vilifying rough sleepers to a focus on the lack of affordable housing that underpins the crisis. These include our member organisations Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand; Jesuit Social Services; McAuley Community Services for Women; Sacred Heart Mission; and VincentCare.

According to Homelessness Australia, Victorians become homeless because of: financial difficulties (housing stress, unemployment) (22%), accommodation issues (housing crisis, inadequate or inappropriate dwellings) (29%), relationship issues (time out from family, family breakdown, violence and assault) (33%), health reasons (mental health issues, substance abuse issues) (3%) and other issues like transition from care/custody, lack of support and discrimination (14%).

Local, State and Commonwealth governments need a strategy to combat this crisis. The letter states:

The Victorian Government has committed more than $600 million to social housing and homelessness support largely in response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence. We are still awaiting the Victorian affordable housing strategy.

Our Federal Government is a long way from having a plan to tackle this problem. Meanwhile, those on lowest incomes are being pursued by automated Centrelink debt notices, reducing their already meagre incomes. This will inevitably increase homelessness.

It's not just Government and community organisations that need to work together. Public opinion appears to have hardened in recent times. Recent statements by leaders and the media are only making matters worse.

Instead, Victorians need to come together and recognise that homelessness can happen to almost anyone, and work towards building community and creating more places to live for our fellow Australians.


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