Early on a cold July morning, the staff of the Homelessness And Advocacy Team (HAAT) unit of Centacare gather around a table to discuss the upcoming day’s cases. A tin of chocolates sits in the middle of the group. Tea and coffee is shared.
There is no ‘typical’ day for the unit, says Donna Bogdanovski, the coordinator of Homelessness Support and Advocacy Services
“It depends on referrals: we might be picking up from the day before; we might get them from families, from health services, from crisis accommodation services. The support is more than just around housing – it’s housing and security.”
We have a family with six children, living in a caravan. And we have no housing for them.Donna Bogdanovski
Ballarat has a growing homelessness and emergency housing crisis. It’s more than the people you think you see on the street living rough.
It’s the elderly forced from their homes by rising costs and static pensions. The numbers of people aged over 70 living on friend’s lounges and in emergency accommodation has risen alarmingly.
It’s young couples with equally young children seeking an affordable rental in Ballarat because they’ve been forced from Melbourne’s spiralling housing market, to find a cruelly similar situation here.
It’s people with mental health crises finding themselves locked into cycles of emergency treatment and then having nowhere to turn, because there’s no desire on the part of any government to address the lack of institutional care and support.
Each HAAT staff member has a speciality to cover – mental health, crisis housing, in-home support.
The Courier spent just half a day with members of the HAAT team in Ballarat, visiting the people they care for – and about.
“I wasn’t real compatible with the system.”
Bill is 69 years old. We visit him in his home, which the HAAT team is helping him clean and secure. Bill’s put on his good houndstooth jacket to welcome us, but his moccasins are mismatched. This is because he’s virtually blind. Cataracts have obscured his vision.
Blindness induces isolation. He’s quiet. Bill says mathematics and music are his main interests. He likes to read.
His home is, to be honest, something of a mess. Bill hoards odds and ends; his eyesight means he struggles to clean up after himself. People have taken advantage of his kindness, moving in and not paying rent; using his home as a squat.
He’s a gentle man, remarkably well-spoken. He plays the piano. Born in Hamilton, he came to Ballarat for study and work. He’s not sure how his life came to this point.
“It’s an interesting one, that,” he says.
“Perhaps my memory is not quite good enough in some ways. I took whatever work I could get; foundry work. What’s now the Salvation Army was Eureka Valves. That work finished for me too long ago; about 1984.”
The HAAT team have been hard at work with Bill. Broken windows have been replaced, doors secured. They have repaired his bathroom of a rotting hole that opened up beneath the shower. His health is improving with their assistance; his cataracts are being treated. Negotiations are underway to return his home to his control, to rehouse his squatters.
“I haven’t really got complaints. The work that’s been done by Centacare, the windows, door locks, the shower business. It was rough for a while, but they’ve saved me.”
Jake and Tash’s Story
“We were on the verge of homelessness.”
Natasha and Jake are a young couple with a young son. As winter loomed, they were caught in the struggle of applying for rental accommodation – in Melbourne, in Melton, in Ballarat.
“I kept applying and applying,” says Natasha.
“We kept getting rejected. Me and Jake don’t drive, so it’s very hard to get to inspections; I had to catch the bus, and usually the bus didn’t get there on time.”
Through Centacare, Tash met Georgie. Georgie gave her taxi vouchers to get to inspections, meaning they now have a house. She accompanied her to inspections and arranged meetings with real estate agents to discuss the couple’s needs and how to help.
“We were in a desperate situation, boarding with people… it wasn’t nice. We’re a young family. We deserve to have our own house.”
“It was daunting; I wanted to be dead”
Speaking to Jane*, the pain of a life of insecurity is raw and immediate.
“My situation was that I tried to kill myself. I ended up in the Adult Acute Unit (at Ballarat Base Hospital) and I was in there for three weeks,” she says.
“I had nowhere to go, I had no money either. I had a little suitcase with a few things.”
Jane and her husband had moved to Ballarat from Melbourne. Unable to find work, her husband became depressed. Their relationship ended, and Jane’s world fell apart. She had nowhere to live, to turn to.
That’s where Damien McGee of the Centacare Housing Mental Health Pathways, stepped in.
He found Jane short term housing, and now is helping her find a home.
“If there was more emergency accommodation in town, people would find it easier to access services like Centacare and Centrelink,” he says. “But we have to do what we can, with what we have, for now.”
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