Cost of Living and Rental Crisis Hitting the Homeless Hard

7 August 2023

Cost of Living and Rental Crisis Hitting the Homeless Hard

Too many without a roof are children and youth – and the number is growing

Twelve interest rate rises, a rental crisis and a brutal winter where heating has gone from necessity to luxury – The Salvation Army is seeing the results and knows how hard the current economic climate is hurting all Australians.

However, for the already homeless and those who are now finding themselves without stable accommodation, the situation is dire.

“Never has it been harder to find accommodation and, if you can, afford it, “The Salvation Army’s General Manager of Homelessness, Jed Donoghue, says. “So, those who were already at a disadvantage, who were already struggling, are now desperate. And so many – too many – are children and young people.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated there were 122,494 people homeless on Census night in 2021 (up from 116,427 in 2016 or a 5.2 per cent increase). Of these, 45,850 were children and young people.

As National Homelessness Week (August 7-13) approaches, the alarming issue of youth homelessness has come to the fore following the National Children and Youth Homelessness Conference in Melbourne and subsequent report here.

The report asks the Australian government to work collaboratively with youth homelessness services and young people with lived experience to develop a plan that addresses the growing issue of child and youth homelessness.

The Salvation Army’s General Manager of Youth Services, Natalee O’Brien, agrees, citing attitudes among landlords towards young adults with little rental history or income, long rental queues, the decades required to save for a house deposit and the complexities of disadvantage. “This means young people face more significant challenges to overcoming homelessness than those in other demographics,” she says.

“Without appropriate intervention, young people experiencing homelessness are at a much higher risk of failing to gain an education, entering the labour market or receiving support to recover from past trauma or substance misuse.”

“Our work with young people experiencing highly challenging circumstances has shown they can thrive when the drivers of disadvantage, discrimination and poverty are removed.”

Another report by Everybody’s Home was also recently released as part of a national campaign to fix the housing crisis. Launched in 2018 by a coalition of housing, homelessness and welfare organisations to achieve change, the campaign is now supported by 500 organisations, businesses and councils (including The Salvation Army), and 40,000 individuals across Australia.

The report highlights a massive 98 per cent of survey respondents answered yes to being concerned about the housing crisis and the overwhelming majority (67 per cent) were in housing stress (spending more than 30 per cent of their household budget on housing).

These figures mirror The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal research this year, showing more than half of our clients are experiencing extreme housing stress, spending 50 per cent or more of their income on housing. And 57 per cent expressed significant concerns regarding their current living arrangements, such as high costs, disrepair, temporary living arrangements, lack of safety, inadequate basic amenities, and limited access to essential services.

According to The Salvation Army’s General Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Jennifer Kirkaldy, the housing crisis is particularly impacting people who rely on government income support.

“Ninety per cent of people accessing our services who are receiving the JobSeeker payment are living below the poverty line,”; Ms Kirkaldy says. “We know 77 per cent reported financial stress and 73 per cent of respondents are struggling to afford food.”

“Our research has shown that people who rely on JobSeeker are actually going backwards after paying for housing and other non-discretionary expenses. On these essentials alone, they are having to spend more than they receive in income support.”

“When you consider so many trapped in a poverty cycle are young people just starting out in life, and that Youth Allowance is at an even lower and more inadequate level than JobSeeker, the need for reform is acute and immediate.”

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