HOMELESSNESS: It all comes down to the numbers... and you lose

By Charmayne Allison

THERE are 764 homes available for social housing in Echuca.

Today there are 1809 applications for them.

Tonight no-one really knows how many people will sleep rough, or hit couches and floors in the homes of family and friends.

But it will be a lot; too many.

And many of them are the legacy of our booming real estate market.

“Our options are very limited,” Anglicare Victoria regional director Francis Lynch said.

“There's a lack of availability and, particularly in Echuca, we find it extremely difficult to find affordable rental accommodation for people on low incomes or Centrelink benefits.”

While the NSW Department of Family and Community Services only provides statistics for the vast Murrumbidgee region, the story sounds much the same in Moama.

St Vincent de Paul Echuca welfare conference president Theresa Jacobs said she had seen a steady climb in the number of homeless locals asking for assistance from both sides of the river.

“I’ve been here the past 10 years and it’s definitely increased throughout the past five,” she said.

“We’ve seen a big jump in homelessness, but it’s a difficult issue to put a number on.

“We help as much as we can. We can give food, clothes and bedding.

“And Anglicare does a wonderful job as well. But the accommodation in Echuca-Moama is not very good.”

In the 2018-19 financial year, Anglicare Victoria helped 239 people including children with their parents and 73 young people through their Echuca homelessness services.

“We don’t actually offer any accommodation ourselves,” Mr Lynch said.

“We can assist people to find emergency accommodation in a motel or a caravan park.

“We also work with people to find them longer-term rental accommodation.”

But due to limited resources and staffing, Anglicare were unable to assist almost the same number – 250 people and 62 young people – in the past financial year.

Mr Lynch said this was largely due to a stark imbalance in supply and demand.

“It’s incredibly hard to find rental accommodation when there's a big tourism influx,” he said.

“Plus a lot of communities are struggling with homeowners putting their properties on the Airbnb market rather than the rental market, meaning rental markets are tighter than they might have been five years ago.

“Public housing is also tight, even if you're on an emergency priority list. Often these houses have long-term, stable tenants.”

The same goes for crisis housing.

“It's an ongoing issue in Echuca because availability is limited,” Mr Lynch said.

“And occasionally people might have history with a motel and the motel may say no, we don't want to house that person. That can be a problem as well.”

Mr Lynch said the number of Campaspe locals in housing stress was high, exacerbated by the lack of affordable rental accommodation in the region.

“We've found there are no affordable properties available for people on Newstart. And even for people who are on benefits like other Centrelink payments there are still large gaps in affordability,” he said.

“That's the same for people just on minimum award rates. Many find it very difficult to find affordable accommodation, even if they're working.”

While Mr Lynch admitted there was a long road ahead before this crisis was fixed, he said both State and Federal Governments had a major role to play in terms of changing policies.

“Even in the last Federal election there were issues discussed around housing affordability and it's not a new issue, it's an ongoing issue that as a result we've had a lot of families in significant housing stress,” he said.

Njernda Aboriginal Corporation was contacted repeatedly for comment but did not respond.