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Homelessness in the Greater Geelong Region – Addressing the Problem

August 6, 2020

Tonight, hundreds of people across the wider Geelong region face homelessness or the real risk of becoming homeless.

This week is Homelessness Week, an annual week coordinated by Homelessness Australia to raise awareness of those experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action required to achieve enduring solutions.

Homelessness can mean a number of things – it could mean couch surfing with family and friends, living in a car, or sleeping rough in a public street or park.

 

Sadly, it’s an issue that’s growing at an unacceptable rate in the G21 region. With a growth rate of 4.2% per year, the rate of homelessness more than doubles that of Greater Geelong’s overall population growth rate (https://www.g21.com.au/news/region-faces-social-housing-crisis).

Geelong has the second-highest homelessness figures in Victoria, with 883 people experiencing homelessness in the Geelong region, and more than 3,200 people on waiting lists for public and community housing (http://g21hwbpillar.com.au/sites/default/files/resources/g21_hwb_homelessness_-_final_version.pdf).

Some of the issues behind homelessness in Geelong

Homelessness as an issue is difficult to address because there is no singular cause. Though many assume a lack of, or limited income causes most homelessness, this is only partially true. Other reasons that a person may find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness include domestic violence, mental illness, family breakdown and simply a lack of affordable housing.

The effects of finding oneself homeless are equally varied and terrible. Not having a permanent address can negatively affect one’s job prospects, mental and general health and food security. This is amplified during the current time of Covid-19 – you cannot isolate to avoid or prevent the spread of the coronavirus if you have no fixed address.

Put simply, having a roof over one’s head is a basic human need.

 

How the Give Where You Live Foundation is taking action.

The Give Where You Live Foundation’s response to homelessness in the Greater Geelong region is embedded in our Theory of Change. In its most basic form, our theory is that people and places thrive when they have adequate education to have a sustainable and sustaining job and are not limited by a life crisis. There are several challenges that may constitute a life crisis but the Foundation has a strong focus on two basic needs – food and housing.

Our theory guides all of the Foundation’s work to ensure we focus all of our resources and energy in the areas they are most needed. Our theory, therefore, guides our philosophy when challenging homelessness.

Through the provision of grants, the Foundation assisted with the decreased risk of homelessness for 147 people last year. The Give Where You Live Foundation provided grants to several organisations that directly help those experiencing or facing the risk of homeless.

The organisations who have recently received grants to fund programs and services within this space include Samaritan House, Lazarus Community Centre, Uniting (Victoria & Tasmania), Anam Cara House Colac and 3216 Connect – all of which run programs helping those dealing with the effects of homelessness.

The Foundation also provides support through our own  Direct Assistance Voucher program (which provides immediate support in terms of food, pharmacy and material aid) and Feed Geelong (assisting the Geelong Food Assistance Network) both programs address the various effects resulting from homelessness in our community.

 

What’s the long-term pathway for dealing with Homelessness in Geelong?

The problem is far too big and far too varied for a single organisation, or the government to handle.  Give Where You Live Foundation CEO Bill Mithen talked about what would need to happen to address homelessness in the Greater Geelong region.

“A few things need to happen; one is that there needs to be collective action. Groups, individuals, and organisations need to come together behind a plan. Thankfully in the Greater Geelong region we have an excellent  Social Housing plan developed  by the City of Greater Geelong, and in my view, it’s extremely important that we all – not-for-profits, housing providers, local and state governments and even private investors – support that plan.”

This collective action would cover several of the many causes of homelessness, starting with the availability of dwellings for those experiencing homelessness.

“The City of Greater Geelong Social Housing plan says that we need an increase of 13,500 new social housing to meet current and future demand. That is a huge increase and billions of dollars. Therefore another thing that needs to happen to execute this part of the plan, is a new economy that incorporates a new Geelong focused entity that will provide specific and targeted social housing for our region. . That’s why we need all levels of government coming together, along with community organisations, funders, financial institutions and the community at large.”

Bill also commented on the need to address the more complex causes of homelessness in a broader collective action strategy.

We also need to think about the underlying reasons that people are homeless. In some ways homelessness is a symptom of deeper issues –  as an example, we know at the moment homelessness is increasing because of an increase in the incidence of domestic violence.  At the best of times, domestic violence is a complex issue but in out current circumstances where we are in a state of lockdown it is incredibly difficult. Addressing these underlying issues is something that community groups and government organisations can do together. We can start looking at fundamental issues that create homelessness.”