OUR SAY | Ballarat needs a solution to homelessness

Roughly 116,000 Australians are homeless on any given night.

It’s a deeply saddening statistic –  to think so many of us have no where to call home tonight and that so many are struggling in Ballarat. 

This week, as the country recognises Homelessness Week, we need to turn our focus to the issue and the action needed. It promotes the theme ‘ending homelessness together’. 

It’s a call for government action driven by the compassion of individuals and a chance for us to consider the issue and potential solutions specific to Ballarat. 

Welfare organisations are calling for increased investment in social housing and services urgently. 

The issue persists despite their work toward a housing first approach and a slight decrease in the percentage of homelessness in the region from 0.43 per cent to 0.4 per cent between 2011 and 2016, according to RMIT ABC Fact Check data.

The Ballarat region ranked 111 out of 328 for the number of people experiencing homelessness in 2016. 

As a community, we need to turn around deeply engrained attitudes to homelessness. Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Jenny Smith said public attitudes were lagging behind the facts. 

A Victorian government survey found Victorians were more likely to believe homelessness stemmed from drug and alcohol use than systemic issues such as housing affordability or the availability of social housing.

But the causes of homelessness are more complex than most people in Ballarat may think.

Last month The Courier reporter Caleb Cluff told the story of Bill, an elderly man who was on the verge of homelessness because poor vision made it hard for him to look after his home.

Jake, Tash and their young son were on the verge of homelessness when their rental applications were constantly rejected and relying on public transport made it difficult to get to house inspections. 

The solution? It must be tailored specific to our region, not transplanted from solutions applied elsewhere. This is an aim of the ‘housing first approach’ which acknowledges individual needs. 

Meanwhile, investment in social housing and services must increase. And as individuals, we need to change our attitudes.

Let’s promote ourselves as a compassionate city with an understanding of the complex causes of homelessness.