Ballarat's rate of homelessness is almost double the national average, new figures reveal and family violence is one of the key culprits driving the crisis.
Calculations show more than 1900 people experienced or were at risk of homelessness in Ballarat in the 2020-2021 financial year.
Ballarat had 189 clients per 10,000 population compared with 108 clients per 10,000 population nationally.
This is higher than the rate for Geelong, at 157 clients per 10,000 population, and Bendigo, at 183 clients per 10,000 population.
High rates of family violence and a lack of affordable housing options are some of the factors driving the invisible crisis.
Crime Statistics Agency data reveals there were more than 2300 family incidents reported in Ballarat in 2021, an increase from 1960 in 2020.
A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals forty two per cent of all homelessness service clients in Australia had experienced domestic and family violence in 2020-2021.
It is a really disturbing social problem that we have to keep working together to address.Libby Jewson, WRISC Family Violence Support
WRISC Family Violence Support chief executive Libby Jewson said the statistics were not a surprise.
"Women who have experiences of family violence often have no accommodation because of safety risks and it leads to homelessness," she said.
"It is a really disturbing social problem that we have to keep working together to address."
Ms Jewson said women escaping family violence into homelessness were worried about their safety and the safety of their children.
She said some women decided to return to violent partners because they may not have any other housing options.
Central Highlands Integrated Family Violence Committee principal strategic adviser Dr Jess Cadwallader said a lack of affordable housing was creating significant issues.
She said she had heard of clients who applied for 300 private rentals and had no success.
"It means that case managers end up spending a disproportionate amount of time on housing people rather than on other elements of family violence risk," Dr Cadwallader said.
Ms Cadwallader said a lack of transitional housing was increasing the likelihood of homelessness in the aftermath of escaping family violence.
She said emergency and crisis accommodation was also clogged up because there were no exit points into long-term housing, meaning families and people were stuck in inappropriate situations.
Salvation Ballarat Karinya Support Services manager Kellie Brown said the backlog in crisis accommodation meant they could not help new clients.
"People have been in crisis housing for the entire period of the pandemic and they still don't have anywhere to go," she said.
"I think it is going to get worse before it gets better."
You can watch a forum on homelessness in Ballarat that was hosted in November below.
Dr Cadwallader said individuals and families stuck in motels and hotels were struggling, with no space for children to play and lack of cooking facilities meaning more money is spent on food.
Rowan Sweeney from the Central Highlands Homelessness Alliance said many women were trapped in violent situations during pandemic lockdowns.
"What we are seeing is the human cost of a housing system that has been neglected (especially at the federal level) for too long," he said.
"While it's true that people, who choose to use violence (who are predominantly men), need to be called to account, the behaviours of respect, equality and women's empowerment will take generations to learn.
"In the meantime, it's not hyperbole to say that access to affordable housing will save lives."
The AIHW report reveals half of all money spent on clients Australia-wide in 2020-2021 was to provide short-term or emergency accommodation and 30 per cent was used to help clients establish or maintain tenancy.
The report shows more than three quarters of clients who had experienced family and domestic violence were female, at 77 per cent and 23 per cent were male.
"I suspect a number of those are young men who are leaving violence in their families," Dr Cadwallader said.
"We know for young people experiencing family violence the choice they make to escape the violence is homelessness."
Data from Ballarat homelessness entry point service Uniting reveals 100 per cent of female rough sleepers in the Street 2 Home program have been victims of family violence.
Australia-wide, the Specialist Homelessness Services annual report 2020-2021 reveals the majority of all homelessness service clients were female, at 60 per cent, and three in 10 clients were under the age of 18.
Almost 278,300 clients were supported throughout Australia in 2020-21, including 111,100 who were homeless when they presented for help and 144,500 who were at risk of homelessness.
AIHW spokesperson Dr Gabrielle Phillips said people experiencing homelessness and at risk of homelessness were among the most socially and economically disadvantaged people in Australia.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be over-represented in homelessness statistics, with more than one quarter of clients identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The number of clients with a mental health issue has increased 7.8 per cent since 2011-2012, to a total of 32 per cent of all clients in 2020-2021.
I think it is going to get worse before it gets better.Kellie Brown, Salvation Army Ballarat
Uniting Ballarat senior manager housing and homelessness Adam Liversage said all clients in the Street 2 Home rough sleeping program had mental health issues.
He said said family violence, relationship breakdowns, mental health issues, lack of affordable housing, loss of employment, increased cost of living, lack of support and isolation contributed to homelessness.
But he said staff were now coming across people who were working and earning a stable income, but still could not find safe and affordable housing.
"The rental market has become that tight now," Mr Liversage said.
"Our emergency relief program is seeing individuals and families that would have never normally sought assistance, however high cost of living, loss of income and employment due to COVID 19 has impacted.
"People are battling on all fronts."
RELATED COVERAGE: The staff on the frontline of homelessness support in Ballarat
Uniting Ballarat is currently supporting 39 households in crisis accommodation, including 34 children.
The service placed 511 households into some form of crisis accommodation including hotels and motels, caravan parks and cabins in the last financial year.
Mr Liversage said if none of those accommodation facilities were an option, staff gave out tents, swags and blankets.
There are 173 households on the over 25s priority list waiting for housing in Ballarat and the region and 67 households on the under 25s priority list.
Mr Liversage said the Victorian Government's investment in the Big Build was positive, but the state needed more consistent housing projects and more investment into community and social housing.
He said there was a need for more one and two bedroom properties and increases in crisis accommodation, transitional housing options and wrap around supports.
"Street 2 Home is pivotal for rough sleepers, however it is under resourced and cannot keep up with the demand of rough sleepers where numbers are increasing," Mr Liversage said.
The new statistics released on Tuesday reflect people's experiences during a time when state and federal governments implemented protective measures throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
These included moratoriums on evictions, JobKeeper and the coronavirus supplement which prevented many vulnerable renters from becoming homeless.
"The assistance we had to place people into motels at the height of the pandemic, that funding can't continue," Ms Brown said.
"Those individuals and families need to find somewhere else to be and there is no properties.
"I think it is going to get worse."
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