As one of Victoria’s largest providers of housing and homelessness support services, have you experienced any unique challenges over the course of COVID, and repeated lockdowns?
The global pandemic that is COVID-19 has presented numerous challenges for us as an organisation, as well as our ever-growing client group. Although challenging, it’s been an opportunity to strengthen services, adapt and apply pressure in the right places to ensure government and business leaders address the issue of homelessness in the state of Victoria with more opportunities at the national level as we come out of this pandemic.
In 2020, Launch Housing assisted 2,000 individuals into emergency accommodation. We are now taking the next steps to permanently house as many as possible as part of the Victorian Government’s From Homelessness To A Home program.
What do you see as sustainable pathways out of homelessness, and how can this be achieved?
We have difficulty transitioning people smoothly from sleeping rough into long-term housing tenure. Although we are under supplied in terms of crisis and emergency accommodation in the state, once individuals, couples and families are ready to move onto supported or long-term social housing, the waitlists are very long. This means that they could experience homelessness once again or have extended stays in crisis accommodation, preventing new entrants from accessing those.
We need to unblock the system through the delivery of thousands of social housing dwellings in the coming years. We also need to match this new housing with adequate support to help people improve their circumstances and wellbeing. Housing coupled with support is crucial.
Tell us a bit about what Launch has been working on this year?
We recently completed our 48-unit Harris Transportable Housing Project in Melbourne’s west, and are now delivering two new projects in Melbourne’s east and inner north.
Our project in construction in Melbourne’s east, the Families Supportive Housing project, will soon be home to 60 families. This is a supported housing project which means there will be services such as counselling available on site led by our service partner, Uniting, which has a proud history of family-focused service delivery.
We’re also in the final stages of design of our Launch Bellfield social housing project in Melbourne’s inner north. It’s a unique project in partnership with Banyule City Council and Launch Housing.
The 58-apartment project sets clear ambitions for environmentally sensitive design and the acknowledgment of First Nations people. The building features a striking exterior design showcasing GLT (Glulam Laminate timber) while being highly relatable with a warmth of character complemented by specially commissioned Indigenous artwork in communal spaces. It will be home to a diverse group of residents who we hope will enjoy living next door to the brand new Community Hub being developed by Banyule City Council.
“We need to unblock the system through the delivery of thousands of social housing dwellings and match this new housing with adequate support to help people improve their circumstances and wellbeing. Housing coupled with support is crucial.”
And Launch also operates a real estate agency, HomeGround?
Yes, HomeGround Real Estate is a non-profit social enterprise agency that was founded in 2014. It now manages hundreds of properties across Melbourne and revenue go back into helping fund Launch Housing’s mission of ending homelessness.
As a social enterprise, it has all the hallmarks of a strong real estate agency keenly focused on the needs of landlords and tenants alike, while being driven by purpose rather than profit. It’s a great opportunity for private landlords and portfolio property investors to give back to the community via the contribution that their leasing management fees can make to improving rental affordability.
Landlords decide whether to offer their properties at below market or market rates and approve tenants, many of whom are women and children coming out of family violence situations or people who would otherwise be squeezed out of the rental market.
HomeGround also represents a sensible option for the build to rent sector by offering management of affordable housing services as well as private market rentals. Given the intention is to provide affordable housing within build to rent projects, it could be an advantage to seek a social enterprise like HomeGround to provide management services.
In your experience what are some of the main reasons people find themselves homeless?
Domestic and family violence, the housing crisis and financial difficulties are among the leading causes of homelessness but there are many reasons why people can find themselves going through it, including factors outside an individual’s control like the loss of a job, or ill health. For domestic and family violence to be up there as a leading cause of homelessness in this country is a huge wakeup call for all of us.
What are some of the misconceptions around homelessness?
We still tend to blame the individual for the circumstances they find themselves in. It’s something I find myself talking to people about regularly. We need to shift our mindset from a victim blaming mentality and appreciate the systemic failures and difficult circumstances that have led to this point. That requires coming from a place of compassion — that’s something we can all work on.
What should be front of mind for people during Homelessness Week?
It can be easy to go about your week, especially during a pandemic or lockdown and only consider your own circumstances. The fact is, over 24,000 Victorians and 116,000 Australians are homeless on any given night. As a collective, we must acknowledge the struggle, fear and stress those 116,000 Australians are feeling and work toward changing that number, dramatically. That Homelessness Week falls in the winter season underlines the urgency of this fight.
Does Launch have any special activities planned during this week that people should get behind?
We are preparing to launch a major ‘always-on’ campaign to reach Melbourne Zero. Launch Housing is committed to housing every person sleeping rough in Melbourne which means that we will get to a position where we have achieved Melbourne Zero – which means everyone housed; zero homeless. When there are more people moving off the streets and into housing than those turning up on the streets as newly homeless, we achieve zero homelessness. There will be more to come soon via our social media and our website so please check it out and get involved.