Ballarat homelessness advocates seek action

BALLARAT homelessness advocates are calling on the community to embark on a holistic approach to break the cycle of poverty. 

Berry Street Grampians Regional director Steve Johnson said there was a pressing need for more partnerships, including outreach organisations working with real estate agencies, to open up the rental market to the city’s most vulnerable.

“There is growing demand and less

options in terms of accommodation,” Mr Johnson said.

“We need a community response, we need for the issue to be opened up and for us to be working together to be part of a solution.”

His comments come in the wake of national Homeless Persons Week, which runs from August 4 to 10.

Berry Street in Barkly Street is running an initiative to help the city’s vulnerable young people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. 

The Reconnect program assists more than 100 young people every year.

Berry Street established the program in 2009 after being inundated with calls for assistance from families and young people aged 12 to 18.

Mr Johnson said young people were often the hidden face of the homelessness crisis, with many sleeping in cars or couch-surfing to survive.

“It’s not just the stereotypical, rough-looking man sleeping on the street,” Mr Johnson said.

“You only have to look at the recent tragedy of two young people in Ballarat using a heater to keep warm and tragically dying in their car.

“It happens far too often. People feel vulnerable and they would do anything to sleep somewhere that is safe for the night.”

Social issues including drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, lack of secure accommodation, family violence or abuse and significant mental health issues including anxiety and depression continued to be at heart of the issue, Mr Johnson said.

“It’s often not just one issue but multiple issues,” he said.

The program works alongside welfare agencies including UnitingCare to create pathways not only to accommodation but mediation with family, counselling, education and employment opportunities.

Cindy Evans, the Central Highlands co-ordinator of the Reconnect program, said accessing the private rental market was difficult for young people who did not have a rental history. 

“It is a matter of getting a broader understanding of the issues these young people face so that real estate agents are more open to offering housing,” Ms Evans said. 

According to the Council to Homeless Persons, almost 800 people remain on the public housing waiting list in Ballarat.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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