Twelve beds to a room: life in a boarding house a creeping reality
After 12 years, Danny has finally secured his own place in transitional housing. Photo: Jason South
Sleeping rough, dossing in hostels and staying in dozens of Melbourne rooming houses — in 12 years of back and forth between prison and the streets Danny has unenviable experience of housing available to those who live on the margins.
But it may surprise some that his worst experiences were in the rooming houses — one had 12 beds in a room, another no cooking facilities or fire alarms and yet another was riddled with lice and bed bugs.
You would never guess some are boarding houses, they just look like any other suburban home and get put into the wrong census category
‘‘Many of the residents are either zombified or homicidal. I can think of nothing good to say about those places,’’ says the 33-year-old, who did not want to use his last name.
New research from RMIT University shows the number of people living in rooming houses in Melbourne has soared about 230 per cent in the past five years, from 3700 in 2006 to 12,500 in 2010.
The number of rooming houses rose from an estimated 360 to 1450 in the same period.
Rooming houses have spread from inner Melbourne into the suburbs, and the profile of people living in them is changing — as mainstream rental prices creep upwards it puts the squeeze on those who previously managed to scrape by; families, aged pensioners and students.
RMIT’s Professor Chris Chamberlain, who will release his study at the university’s inaugural Homelessness Research Conference tomorrow, said the largest growth in rooming houses were in the western suburbs and middle-ring Eastern suburbs.
The census area of western Melbourne, which includes Maribyrnong and Essendon, went from 36 rooming houses in 2006 to 339 in 2011, while the Eastern middle census area of Melbourne, which includes Whitehorse, and Monash, went from 37 to 361.
The data was compiled from lists kept by local councils and 250 field visits to rooming houses, which Professor Chamberlain said was a more reliable method than that used by the federal government, which relies on census collectors being able to recognise rooming houses.
‘‘You would never guess some are boarding houses, they just look like any other suburban home and get put into the wrong census category,’’ says Professor Chamberlain.
The huge increase in rooming houses tallies with what support workers on the ground had been saying for years, said Homeground Services head Stephen Nash.
‘‘One of the problems is that homelessness is largely invisible in Melbourne — you have normal family homes built for one family that house three or four families,’’ he said.
Danny has had his own flat for six weeks, found through a program called Melbourne Streets to Home, run by Homeground, the Salvation Army and the Royal District Nursing.
But after years of sleeping rough and ‘‘living like a turtle with my stuff on my back’’ he finds it strange to adjust to a fixed address: ‘‘It’s still only just sinking in that this is my place,’’ he says.
ROOMING HOUSE INCREASES, BY AREA:
From 2006 to 2011
Inner Melbourne — 146 to 188
Western Melbourne — 36 to 339
Moreland — 16 to 64
Northern middle Melbourne — 14 to 90
Eastern middle Melbourne — 37 to 361
Southern Melbourne — 18 to 73
Frankston City — 7 to 50
SOURCE: Counting Boarding Houses, RMIT.