Homelessness Week 2021 will find us amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with many parts of Australia on high alert and Greater Sydney in a protracted and unpredictable lockdown. The main strategies for fighting this public health emergency have been orders to ‘stay at home’, ‘work from home’, ‘self-isolate at home’, and ‘study from home’.
Home has become central to our personal safety and wellbeing, and a pathway out of this pandemic. Homelessness Week this year provides a particularly important opportunity to consider those without a home, the factors driving homelessness in Australia and solutions that are within our reach.
For almost 40 years, the Women’s Housing Company has been providing safe, secure, and affordable housing to women of all ages and backgrounds. Never has demand for our services been this high. The housing affordability crisis has reached a point where home ownership and private rental are beyond the reach of many, and the demand for social housing and homelessness services far outstrips supply.
What does a housing crisis look like?
- Sydney is the third least affordable city for home ownership in the world
- Less than one percent of available private rentals are affordable for a single person
- The expected waiting times for general social housing are, in the main, well over 10 years
- On average, 25 requests for homelessness assistance are unmet each day.
What does a housing crisis for women look like?
- Older single women are the fastest growing group to experience homelessness, with the last Census showing an increase of 31 percent
- Almost 60 percent of clients receiving support from specialist homelessness services in NSW are women
- The top reasons for women in NSW receiving homelessness assistance are domestic and family violence, housing crisis, financial difficulties, and mental health issues
- Over 9,000 women in Australia a year are becoming homeless after leaving their homes due to domestic and family violence and being unable to secure long-term housing
- Over 7,500 women in Australia a year who have experienced domestic and family violence are returning to perpetrators due to having nowhere affordable to live.
There is a substantial body of research on the drivers of homelessness, and for women these range from complex individual circumstances through to structural causes. The one common element is the availability of housing that is affordable. Put simply, the solution to homelessness is more housing. The Everybody’s Home Campaign estimates that there is a current shortfall of 500,000 social and affordable homes. Recently released analysis by Equity Economics estimates there is an immediate need for an additional 16,810 social housing units to provide women somewhere to go when their only option is to leave their homes due to domestic and family violence.
With the availability of safe, secure, and affordable housing comes possibility and hope. The possibility to escape domestic and family violence, the possibility to age in place, the possibility for children to complete school and for women to retrain and seek employment.
The Women’s Housing Company joins calls to end homelessness and develop a national strategy for delivering new supply of social and affordable housing — thus providing a home for women in need. Research and data provide the evidence for good public policy; the pandemic compels us to feel a sense of urgency and solve homelessness.