Homelessness Prevention Week

August 7, 2015 by  
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Homelessness Prevention Week is an annual event that reminds us all that there are people currently homeless or at risk of homelessness. But what do we really understand about the issue of homelessness, especially how it is experienced by the Victorian Jewish community?

JewishCare-MelbourneWe know that anyone can become homeless regardless of age, education, socio-economic or relationship status, gender, race or religion. We also know that the causes of homelessness are varied and complex, and can include some or many of the following: abuse, domestic violence, family and relationship breakdown, financial problems, unemployment, disability, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling, grief, loss and insufficient affordable housing.

While all of these factors might cause a person to become homeless, they may also be some of the reasons why people stay homeless.

The pathways out of homelessness are directly related to the drivers/pathways into homelessness, which is why ending homelessness is more than just about providing a roof over someone’s head. It is about providing a house with wrap-around support for the individual to address and overcome the issues that contributed to homelessness in the first place. Sometimes these issues are straightforward such as maximising income or providing affordable housing. Other times, they are complex, like addressing issues of trauma and addiction.

The data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics about homelessness provides part of the story. It tells us that on Census night in 2011, there were 105,237 homeless people in Australia, and within this national figure, 22,773 people were homeless in Victoria. The figures below explain the variety of dwellings that homeless Victorians use for shelter:

  • Persons in supported accommodation for the homeless (approx. 7000 people – 34%)
  • Persons in severely crowded dwellings (approx. 6000 people – 27%)
  • Persons staying in boarding houses (approx. 4500 people – 19%)
  • Persons staying temporarily with other households (approx. 4000 people – 15%)
  • Persons in improvised dwellings, tents or sleeping out (approx. 1092 – 5%)

The highest rate of homelessness is amongst those under the age of 35, who make up 63% of the homeless population. Women and children leaving situations of family violence make up 26%, with 15% of homeless people being over the age of 55 years old.

What about the Jewish community? Housing needs within the Jewish population are similar to the levels within the total Victorian population. The causes of homelessness are also the same.

Professor Andrew Markus’ report Housing Needs Within the Jewish Population of Melbourne commissioned by Jewish Care Victoria (February 2013), estimates that around 220 Jewish persons are homeless at any one time, with an additional 130 persons at risk of homelessness. In addition, nearly 7500 people are living in households experiencing rental stress or mortgage stress.

Consideration of the relative cost of Jewish life indicates that Jewish families, whether observant or traditional, have specific cultural and religious needs which result in costs that are higher than for average Australians, which place extra financial pressure on those with low incomes. The key factors are housing costs in the suburbs with the highest Jewish populations, educational costs at Jewish schools and a range of costs for those who follow an observant Jewish lifestyle, including synagogue affiliation and kosher food.

Over the past two years, Jewish Care has witnessed a significant increase in demand for support by individuals and families who display the range of issues that cause homelessness. Mental illness, drug and alcohol use, violence and abuse are increasingly the reason why people are seeking service and support. Inability to pay rent is increasingly the reason why financial assistance is sought from not only Jewish Care, but other charities in the community. The risk of homelessness is being experienced by many.

For years, Jewish Care has housed the community in affordable housing. With 62 units and 8 houses, the organisation is able to provide stable and affordable accommodation to approximately 60 individuals, 8 families and 4 couples. Additionally, we have 16 properties within the specialist housing and homelessness service system.

Finding a house is one thing. Keeping people housed is another.

Jewish Care has developed a range of responses to keeping people housed. We do this though our financial counselling and emergency aid programs that actively assist people to maintain their accommodation, preventing them from dropping out of private rental homes and into homelessness. For those in our housing program, we provide proactive support through our service coordination service, which focuses on addressing the causal factors that contributed to the person/s becoming homeless in the first place. This wrap-around individualised support enables some of the most vulnerable individuals to have the best chance of sustaining their tenancy once they are housed.

More affordable housing is needed, more support is needed. That is why Jewish Care has embarked on fundraising $30 million towards a $180 million capital investment campaign for 6 major projects. Subject to this fundraising, one of these six capital projects will see almost $13 million invested in the creation of both new and refurbished housing units over the next 3 years. This development will include 33 new and affordable bedroom units and the extensive refurbishment of 63 existing apartments that house individuals and families in the Victorian Jewish community.

People do not choose to be homeless. Rather, they end up homeless as a consequence of a one-off change of circumstance or a series of adverse life events, which leave them without a safety net and a safe and secure place to stay.

Homelessness Prevention Week occurs between 3-9 August 2015 and is a small reminder that we are all just one life break away from becoming homeless, given the right interplay of circumstances and events.

Writers:

* Marilyn Kraner, Manager Individual & Family Services at Jewish Care.

* Melinda Kidgell, Program Manager, Client Services at Jewish Care.

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