As the homeless appear to become increasingly visible on Ballarat’s streets, welfare organisations are continuing their call for more housing – needed urgently.
Uniting Ballarat staff revealed more than 150 households were listed on the organisation’s priority list for housing or support. That list does not include the 57 ‘rough sleepers’ who engaged in Uniting’s Sleep 2 Home program from October 2016 to July 2017, and many more since.
Three workers provide outreach support to those sleeping rough in the region through the Street 2 Home program. Outreach workers assist with housing applications, the supply of blankets and bedding and linking in with health services. Around 40 people have been placed in long term housing since Street 2 Home began in Ballarat in 2016.
But with a limited supply of accommodation available, those sleeping ‘rough’ may have to remain there for weeks after making contact with outreach workers.
We are desperately short of low cost housing.Sean Duffy, Uniting Ballarat
The ‘housing first approach’ implemented in Ballarat prioritises housing by the length of time those homeless have been sleeping rough. Those who have been on the streets for more than 10 years will be housed faster than those who have been homeless for 12 months.
Uniting’s Street 2 Home program has secured funding for another year, but outreach workers say the it will have limited benefits, unless there is further investment in increasing the supply of low cost housing.
“We are desperately short of low cost housing,” Uniting Ballarat chief executive Sean Duffy said.
“Occupancy rates for rentals that are in the lower end of the range are practically nothing. It is also a problem in Daylesford, Bacchus Marsh, Ararat, Creswick, so it is not like people can move into country areas and have more options. We need sizeable investment in social housing. We need to work with private and public developers to look at solutions for the future.”
Street 2 Home coordinator Adam Liversage said the team were in regular contact with most people sleeping on the streets in Ballarat and surrounding towns.
“It would be a pretty rare case if someone was sleeping rough and we didn’t know about them,” he said.
That includes those making ‘home’ in the forests in areas surrounding Ballarat, who often make it into town to visit the agency when the winter cold gets too ‘unbearable’.
Mr Liversage said securing accommodation, short or long term, was the first ‘point of call’ when outreach workers made initial contact with ‘rough sleepers’.
“All our rough sleepers now come under what is called a housing first model. They become the highest priority for a property. But once again there is limited stock,” he said.
Mr Duffy said outreach workers also built rapport with individuals to create trust and an understanding of their needs.
“We can’t make the assumption that we understand what their needs are or what their goals are, so it is important for us to take an individualised approach. It is not a one stop approach for everyone,” he said.
“The pathway for individuals can be very different. It could be about treatment and support and when they get treatment they start to feel better and start to be personally able to take responsibility.”
But Mr Duffy acknowledges many need support on a long term basis, particularly to maintain accommodation once they secure it.
“Housing is only part of the jigsaw. It is not the whole story. Yes we need housing, but we also need substantial support and long term commitment to support each individual,” he said.
Housing and crisis support manager Wendy Ferguson said many struggled to cope after being housed.
“It might seem odd that somebody struggles to maintain their housing, but if they have been used to living on the street for a long time, it can be very foreign to them and very isolating,” she said.
“They identify themselves as living on the street and that all of a sudden very quickly changes. There is a huge process for them to go through emotionally and mentally to adjust.”
Ms Ferguson said any new social housing developments in Ballarat should include a mix of bedrooms numbers, be close to services, affordable and not built in large complexes.