Calls for more social housing and higher allowances for Tasmania’s homeless youth – Michmutters

Calls for more social housing and higher allowances for Tasmania’s homeless youth

Layla was only in grade eight when she found herself on the streets.

After family conflict, she spent four months homeless, couch surfing, going to shelters and even sleeping rough.

Now, at 16, she understands more than most about what lies behind a statistic.

“When I was on the streets, I think I went to school three times the whole time I was out there. I didn’t have a social life … I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said.

“Towards the end of it, I was at a house that wasn’t the nicest of houses, but I had a roof over my head most nights,” she said.

It was an incident she does not want to detail that prompted her to seek a different path.

“One thing opened up my eyes and I didn’t want to stay out there, so I packed up my crap and just went home.”

Layla then stayed with her sister and began rebuilding her life.

Homelessness on the rise

The latest Census data on homelessness will not be released until next year, but support groups say it is already apparent the issue has worsened over the past five years.

Patti Chugg Shelter Tasmania.
Shelter Tasmania’s Pattie Chugg says the state has the highest proportion of people who are homeless.(ABC News: Scott Ross)

A recent Mission Australia survey found that, during the COVID pandemic, more than one in 30 young Tasmanians experienced homelessness for the first time in their lives.

Pattie Chugg from Shelter Tasmania said 6,600 people a year accessed housing services and that number was increasing all the time.

“Tasmania has the highest proportion of people [who] are homeless because they haven’t got affordable rental, and for young people that’s exacerbated very much for them when they are on lower incomes, part-time [or] casual wages or Youth Allowance,” Ms Chugg said.

“It’s a really simple equation in some ways. We’ve got a lot of people on low incomes. We’ve got rents that are rising and then those two things come together. It is the people with the least amount of resources [who] are the ones missing out the most.

“We’ve got this perfect storm really of not enough affordable housing to house people in Tasmania.”

Middle group emerging

Tania Hunt smiles at the camera.
Tania Hunt from the Youth Network of Tasmania has called for more social housing for young people.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

Advocacy group Youth Network of Tasmania is concerned there is an emerging group of young people who are homeless because they do not qualify for the public housing waiting list.

“We are seeing young people {who]are not necessarily eligible for social housing, and can’t afford to enter the rental market. So, what do we do for those individuals?” Youth Network chief executive Tanya Hunt asked.

“They need to be allocated more social housing in my view. They need to be prioritized, to reduce homelessness in our community.

“We know that there is high youth unemployment in Tasmania. We know that underemployment is a significant issue. [There’s] transport disadvantage, low incomes — there’s a range of challenges that contribute to housing insecurity and homelessness for young Tasmanians.”

Ms Hunt said the COVID-19 pandemic had also taken a toll.

“Young people experienced unprecedented job losses and a range of other challenges that resulted in housing insecurity and homelessness.”

She said it was difficult to know the exact number, but young people were over represented in the homeless population.

“The problem in Tasmania is often hidden, with young people couch surfing with friends and family, sleeping in their cars and sleeping rough.”

Both Shelter Tasmania and Youth Network say that increasing the Youth Allowance is key to keeping young people off the streets.

“Very few people know how little Youth Allowance is: It’s only $500 a fortnight,” Ms Chugg said.

“Why is Youth Allowance so low and less than an adult’s income on unemployment and other benefits when all their other costs are the same?”

Youth homelessness.  Good generic.
Support groups say there is a growing disparity between government youth payments and rental prices.(abcnews)

State government urged to do more

Hobart City Councilor Jax Fox was behind a move to cap new, short-stay accommodation in an effort to increase rental stock, a measure that is now before the Planning Commission.

In the past, they have also couch surfed and lived in tents, but they say it was “very much on the light end” of homelessness.

“When I was younger my family would just kind of camp, we moved around a lot. It was very socially isolating,” Cr Fox said.

Jax Fox looks away from the camera.
Hobart City Councilor Jax Fox has experienced couch surfing and living in tents.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

“Housing is the first thing that you need to survive.

“If you don’t know somebody who is going through this, or has gone through this, you are deliberately not looking, because it’s everywhere.”

The Tasmanian government has promised to build 10,000 homes in the next 10 years but Cr Fox says even that is not sufficient.

“There are 4,000 families — not individuals, families — on the [waiting] list now. So, if we are going to build houses just for them without the list growing, it is going to take four or five years for the current demand to be met.”

Cr Fox wants more money for emergency housing, access to hotels and a vacancy tax.

“Aside from building more housing, we need a vacancy tax. There are heaps of empty houses around Hobart,” Cr Fox said.

“If people can sit on houses as investments and incomes when others are starving on the streets, how detached from reality do you have to be to think that’s an OK thing to do?

“We should ban short-stay accommodation altogether.”

Data shows that, once a young person experiences homelessness, they are more likely to do so again in later life.

Two women standing in a park.
Layla, pictured with her support worker, Heidi, is no longer homeless and tries to help others who are.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

And being homeless brings with it complications that are hard to overcome.

Understanding much of that, Layla is now looking out for others in the same predicament.

“We’ve got a friend down at the supermarket who is homeless and we help him out every time we go down there. Every day he is there,” Layla said.

“Everyday he’s there and he lives up in a tent in South Hobart and he’s freezing at the moment.

“We bought him some tuna and stuff last night and he can’t even get Centrelink because he doesn’t have a home address. It’s a bit sad.”

Blankets and sheets under a bridge in northern Tasmania.
Unemployment and transport disadvantage are some of the factors at play in youth homelessness.(ABC News: April McLennan)

Pattie Chugg has urged young people to seek out support services by contacting Housing Connect.

“It’s important to make contact through school, support services. There is help there and it’s important our youngest citizens are looked after.”

Premier Jeremy Rockliff said his governments’ plan for 10,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years was “a number that is no doubt a challenge, but we will get there.”

He said the government “recognizes the pressures of homelessness [and we are] looking behind the reasons for homelessness, the mental health pressures, people’s health and wellbeing.”

Mr Rockliff said the government would “engage with key stakeholders such as the Tasmanian Council of Social Service and other advocates in ensuring we have the right policy settings and investment is targeted in the right areas.”


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