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Wake-up call as homelessness rises

Date

Stephanie Anderson, Noel Towell

Amber Clarke was forced to sleep rough in Sydney following the breakdown of her marriage in 2010. She found crisis assistance accomodation with the help of Mission Australia's Community Connections.

Amber Clarke was forced to sleep rough in Sydney following the breakdown of her marriage in 2010. She found crisis assistance accomodation with the help of Mission Australia's Community Connections. Photo: Andrew Meares

The rate of homelessness in the ACT has jumped by 70 per cent in the past five years, a figure that community agencies are labelling a ''wake-up call'' for the government.

Latest census data revealed the rate of homelessness in the capital had increased from 29.3 persons per 10,000 in 2006 to 50 persons per 10,000 last year, giving the ACT the second-highest rate of homelessness behind the Northern Territory.

The number of homeless people in the ACT jumped from 949 in 2006 to 1785 last year, climbing much quicker than overall population growth.

ACTCOSS director Roslyn Dundas ... ''We hope this is a bit of a wake-up call.''

ACTCOSS director Roslyn Dundas ... ''We hope this is a bit of a wake-up call.''

ACT Council of Social Services director, Roslyn Dundas, said it was positive that the recent figures reflected the experiences of organisations working with the capital's homeless population.

''It is the big problem that community agencies have been saying it is,'' she said.

''We hope this is a bit of a wake-up call.''

Ms Dundas said although the capital was a wealthy community, its members had to acknowledge homelessness and poverty as an issue.

''We need to be more aware that poverty is part of the ACT community and we need to work together to address this,'' she said.

Amber Clarke, 22, was forced to sleep rough in Sydney following the break down of her marriage in 2010.

The English-born woman had no family or friends in Australia and could not afford the private rental market.

''Homelessness was a big issue for me. I didn't have anyone to turn to. My family kept telling me to come home [to Britain] but this was something I had got myself into so I felt like I had to get myself out of it.''

She found crisis accommodation with the help of Mission Australia's Community Connections and now has a full-time job in Canberra.

Executive officer for ACT Shelter, Leigh Watson, said the data also highlighted the issue of overcrowding in the capital, with 16 per cent of Canberra's homeless reportedly living in ''severely crowded'' dwellings.

''While the report indicated that only 50 people were identified as living in boarding houses in the ACT, we are concerned that there are more of these people included in the 'severely crowded' figure of 280,'' she said.

''Over the past few months, we have received anecdotal evidence of a growth in 'unofficial' boarding houses. As access to housing that is safe, secure, and appropriate is a human right, we are concerned that for these 280 people this is probably not the case.''

The data reported that the majority of homeless in the capital were in supported accommodation for the homeless at 62 per cent, with 18 per cent staying temporarily with other households.

A total of 29 people reported that they slept in tents or outside, with a spokesman for Anglicare ACT stating that the agency was aware of people sleeping in their cars for extended periods of time.

Newly appointed ACT Housing Minister, Shane Rattenbury, said the numbers did reflect anecdotal figures and service providers had been reporting increased pressure.

''In the Parliamentary Agreement, there's a strong commitment to building Common Ground which specifically targets people who are subjected to homelessness,'' he said.

''Common Ground is a specific facility for people who are homeless or on extremely low incomes and it includes a range of services to tackle the problems that generally go hand-in-hand with homelessness, whether it be an addiction or some other problem like that.''

Almost 300 children under the age of 12 were classed as homeless in the ACT last year.

Thirty per cent of the ACT's homeless were aged 18 or under, with half of the homeless between the ages of 19 and 44 years.

Fifty-six per cent of the homeless in Canberra were male.

Nationally, the rate of homelessness increased by 8 per cent from 2006 levels, with a total of 105,237 people - or 0.5 per cent of the Australian population - who were homeless on the August 9 census night last year.

11 comments

  • Why is the Canberra Times pretending to care about homelessness. Dont you guys realise that the high house prices you tout every week as a "boom" are the primary cause of people not having shelter. You are too busy spruiking property to naive young readers that you forgot that high house prices IN NOT A GOOD THING FOR SOCIETY..or the economy!

    High house prices benefit about 15% of the population (bankers, RE agents and landlords with multiple properties)...the rest of us are stuck renting or paying mega mortgages for 30 years.

    Wake up Canberra, Wake up Australia...this is a disgrace!

    Commenter
    Stavros
    Date and time
    November 13, 2012, 8:59AM
    • In the 'good old days' eg 1970s, most young couples on low incomes were eligible for government housing - which they were able to buy after a period of time. Young singles were eligible for government flats. At the time, the objective was to attract people to come to work in Canberra and build Canberra as a city. Now it is all about revenue raising policies and priorities for ACT government spending eg bike paths or emergency housing?

      Commenter
      Rocksy
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 10:06AM
      • And a plethora of over valued department heads and consultants etc etc.

        Commenter
        COOL OLD DOG
        Location
        ACT
        Date and time
        November 13, 2012, 10:55AM
    • After seeing firsthand the detention centres, food and medical treatment that boat people get I think its disgusting that homeless people are not being looked after. Why arent we building centres for the homeless? Then they too can have thier beds, air con, food and shelter.

      Commenter
      Disgusted
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 11:22AM
      • Disgusted I agreee with you on that. We seem to do more for other countires than we do for our own.

        Commenter
        Milly
        Location
        ACT
        Date and time
        November 13, 2012, 4:18PM
    • Ive lived in Canberra my whole life, Ive own ever seen a handful of homeless persons who are clearly not living at a fixed address.

      300 kids classed as homeless?? What's the definition of homeless???

      Commenter
      jg
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 11:47AM
      • Homeless doesn't always mean the person living on the street pushing their belongings in the trolley, homeless people are often sleeping on friends couches or floors for a couple of nights here or there, if they are lucky they may get a night or two in a shelter, they are living in their cars, it can mean a family squeezing into a friends or relations one bedroom unit. Homelessness comes in lots of forms not always obvious to others.

        Commenter
        CS
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 13, 2012, 3:01PM
    • What a load of rubbish the census statistics are. For one, the actual question which asks about this in the census survey was skewing the data to provide inaccurate figures. They changed the way the question was asked for the last census and they still haven't gotten it right.

      Commenter
      tigger
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      November 13, 2012, 1:45PM
      • Australia is one of the richest countries in the world (believe it or not, I know you might not have an ipad or iphone, but you do have access to clean water, food, education and health care here). It is hard to believe homelessness is unavoidable apart from mental illness or by choice. I have met many migrants who came here with nothing in their hands and can barely speak English, work in jobs that nobody wants to do (cleaning, abattoir, etc.), earn minimum pay and still can afford rental accommodation and bringing up their children. I use to live like them for about 2 years while at uni: part time job 20 hours a week earned me ~250, rent was 200 (I lived closed to uni to avoid travelling cost) and the rest 50 was for food, clothes, medical expenses, unexpected payment, etc). Nothing I ate or drank back then came from a shop and I counted every dollar I spent. It was hard, real hard, but possible. No doubt a lot of people are doing the same thing, even worse than me but we chose to dream about a future and do something for it, instead of sleeping on the street and ask others for spare coins.
        The one who need to wake up here is self-entitled lazy Aussies who doesn't appreciate their luck to be born in Australia.

        Commenter
        Nomnom
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 13, 2012, 1:57PM
        • Remember Bob Hawe promised in 1987 election "By 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty." You must be kidding, right?

          Commenter
          Joe
          Date and time
          November 13, 2012, 4:29PM

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