Planning for the future of homelessness

Organisations have agreed the planning for the future of housing and homelessness in the Yarra Ranges will need to be done collaboratively. Picture: ON FILE.

By Mikayla van Loon

Community organisations and homelessness advocates came together to launch the discussion around homelessness in the Yarra Ranges for Homelessness Week.

This far reaching and ever evolving issue has been of major concern to these organisations for many years but with a pandemic, storm events and now a cost of living rise, homelessness is becoming a possibility for people who have never experienced such hardship before.

Off the back of the pandemic, Anchor’s homeless services manager Peter Dinsdale said there were lessons to be learned about homelessness but also the ability to get people off the streets.

“During Covid, one of the upsides was with all the extra government funding we have not had to tear a single person away from emergency accommodation due to finances and money,” he said.

“That finished on the 1 July unfortunately but that means for two and a half years, we’ve been able to accommodate every family, every individual that we needed to.”

Mr Dinsdale said although hotel accommodation and short term stays weren’t ideal, it meant mental health and drug and alcohol services could start working with these people.

“During that time we found the benefits of being able to stabilise people and wrap the supports around what they need,” he said.

Of the people Anchor has worked with for 10 or 15 years, 30 of them were housed during the pandemic as part of the State government’s From Homeless to Homes program, which obtained 120 houses in the east for homeless people.

But one of the negatives of this program was people were put wherever was available, not having a choice about which house suited their situation.

“We need enough social and government housing, as well as, and let’s not forget, the support that goes with it,” Mr Dinsdale said.

Yarra Ranges Housing Action Group (YRHAG) chair Kate Coleman said Victoria used to get 5000 public housing properties a year but would think it would be no more than 50 these days.

“People are entitled to affordable, safe, secure housing and what we are seeing is growing numbers of people from every demographic who are desperately in need of affordable accommodation,” she said.

As someone who has worked in the housing sector professionally since 1975 and before that as a volunteer, Ms Coleman said YRHAG was formed to raise the profile and needs of people living in the Yarra Ranges.

“What I am seeing unfortunately is, we haven’t solved homelessness or the inherent problems but homelessness has grown and continues to grow which is abhorrent in every sense of the word.

“It’s heartbreaking for someone my age who has worked in the field for a long time, who has always been interested, to see it whittling away to nothing.”

A positive outcome of the pandemic, mentioned by both Mr Dinsdale and Ms Coleman, was the community and homelessness organisations working together to achieve a better outcome for people.

“We need to now be coming together as a community and raise these issues and pushing it and saying ‘this is not good enough, we need more affordable housing’,” Ms Coleman said.

Examples of the community and various organisations joining forces to achieve better services for the homeless was presented by ADRA Community Care Centre, Redwood manager Kate Barratt.

This community came together to offer shower facilities at the Warburton Millgrove Football Netball Club rooms, working alongside ADRA, Warburton Advancement League and True Value Hardware.

As well as this, donations helped ADRA set up a laundry and kitchen service. Support from Yarra Junction Community Op Shop and students at Upper Yarra Secondary College helped establish a lounge room for people to meet or retreat as needed.

A group in Warburton, with the help of the Warburton Advancement League and ADRA, have a goal of establishing, building and managing a community of affordable transitional housing options, within walking distance of the main shops.

The group wishes to build up to 15 two to four bedroom homes to give people an opportunity to find their feet, get support and be financially ready to transition into secure housing more permanently.

Currently this project is in the pre-planning stage with Yarra Ranges Council and the group is seeking funding support of $6000-$10,000 for arboricultural and fire reports.

Like all homelessness and support services in the Yarra Ranges, Soupees founder Gavin Smith said he’s coming to realise the impact domestic and family violence is having on homelessness.

Starting 13 odd years ago in Upwey, Mr Smith said he has expanded much further, supplying meals, clothing, bedding and sleeping bags where he can.

“My job or my vocation if you like, is to try and provide some comfort to people wherever they are,” he said.

“I’m trying to fulfil a need just by walking around the areas that I go and it could be as far as Clayton, right up to the top of the city in North Melbourne.”

With the theme for Homelessness Week this year surrounding the topic of planning for the future of housing and homelessness, Holy Fools CEO Neal Taylor finished the discussion talking about his intentions to work more collaboratively with other services.

He also said to ensure rough sleepers and anyone feeling on the brink of homelessness have a place to turn, particularly in Lilydale, a drop in centre needs to be established.