Ballarat housing problems to be addressed at homelessness forum

A HOMELESSNESS forum aimed at tackling the city’s housing crisis will be held next month.

It comes in the wake of the deaths of a young couple and a dog, who were found inside a car on a remote road at Cardigan.

The couple was using a butane heater to keep warm, and police believe it may have contributed to their deaths. 

City of Ballarat general manager of people and communities Neville Ivey said the forum had been earmarked to be held in Ballarat in August.

He said the purpose of the forum was to spark discussion between the council and support agencies in a bid to implement a more co-ordinated approach to homelessness. 

“The council’s role at the forum will be as a facilitator,” Mr Ivey said.

“It will involve a discussion looking at best practice models, where the sector works collaboratively to achieve better outcomes for individuals and families experiencing housing stress or who are at risk of homelessness.”

UnitingCare Ballarat executive director Dr Cliff Barclay said a holistic approach was needed to tackle the social issues which put people at higher risk of homelessness.

He said the forum needed to consider implementing more support services for mental health, drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr Barclay said the city’s high numbers of electronic gaming machines and soaring levels of family violence continued to be at the heart of the issue.

Dr Barclay said there were hundreds of people living in their cars in Ballarat and there was a desperate need for more housing options to cater for them.

He said UnitingCare was flooded by more than 7000 people needing housing every year.

“The man sleeping on top of the brown paper bag on the street is just one type of homelessness,” he said.

“The issue is so much deeper and more complex. We need more higher density inner city housing options for people because right now if you’re a single person, if you have disability ...  you are really going to struggle to find housing. 

“If you are a larger family you will also struggle because there just isn’t diversity in housing options. We need more of every kind of support you can imagine to help these people.”

Ballarat SoupBus founder Craig Schepis said he wanted to see progressive change.

“We just need to roll our sleeves up and get the work done for the sake of people who need it,” Mr Schepis.

Manager of Anglicare for Western Victoria Geoff Ryan welcomed the forum and said the concept had been a long time coming. 

“We can’t just blame the government for this problem, it is an issue that the whole community needs to address,” Mr Ryan said. 

Mr Ryan said the Salvation Army, Anglicare, UnitingCare and the SoupBus were working together to feed the city’s homeless every meal of the day.

“Anglicare offers a free breakfast four mornings a week,” he said.

“UnitingCare provides a free lunch and the SoupBus provides dinner but there has been an ongoing demand in services and so much more needs to be done to improve access to services for these incredibly vulnerable people.”

A date for the forum is yet to be set.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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