THE vulnerability of those sleeping rough without a safe place to call home on the Mornington Peninsula has been made worse by COVID-19.
This was revealed during Homelessness Week: 1-7 August, when 13 eastern and south eastern municipalities, including Mornington Peninsula Shire, launched a best practice guide: Housing First for People Sleeping Rough, a Practice Guide for Local Government.
The guide is seen as crucial to the welfare of the more than 116,000 Australians and almost 25,000 Victorians who were homeless any given night pre-COVID-19.
The figure includes 7490 across the 13 municipalities, which include Mornington Peninsula and Frankston.
About 300 people sleep rough on the peninsula each night, mostly on the foreshore.
The 2016 Census found 32 per cent of Victorians without a home lived in this region.
“Homelessness is a growing issue on our peninsula,” shire CEO John Baker said. “Council is advocating to provide ground-level service to make a difference to our community. Collectively, we can join forces with our neighbouring councils to tackle the situation better because everyone has a right to safe housing.”
The national president of the St Vincent de Paul Society called on the federal government to “intervene as a matter of urgency as house prices soar, wages stagnate and the housing affordability crisis creeps towards middle Australia”.
Claire Victory said having a home of their own was “fast moving beyond the reach of minimum income earners, placing pressure on a limited, overheated rental market”.
“Homelessness is no longer that stereotypical person sleeping rough,” she said. “It’s people like you and me, just one life event away from a devastating change in circumstances – illness including mental ill health, relationship breakdown, loss of a spouse, domestic violence, or the loss of a job. Older women are now the fastest growing group of people facing homelessness.
“Older people who do not own their own home, and women and children affected by domestic violence, are particularly vulnerable.”
Cr Kerri McCafferty said domestic and family violence victim-survivors and women over 55 were most at risk of homelessness.
“This is gravely concerning and I want to see this issue addressed as a matter of urgency,” she said.
“I am looking forward to meeting with Gabrielle Williams [Minister for Women, Aboriginal Affairs and Prevention of Family Violence] next week to discuss the issue, workshop solutions and advocate for funding for our region to address this.
“The housing crisis is impacting our community in ways which we have never seen, support services are overwhelmed and I am heartbroken by the stories I am hearing.
“I am determined to use my role as a councillor to represent those in the community who need it the most. It is a deeply complex and multifactorial issue, but one that I am committed to tackling head on. We desperately need to work with the state government to find solutions, and quickly.”
Cr Sarah Race said the councillors understood there was a housing crisis “at the moment”.
“And we understand it is multifaceted: from homelessness, to a lack of long term affordable rental accommodation – which means businesses can’t find enough staff and schools are losing families, rapidly rising house prices and a lot of short stay accommodation – there’s over 2500 registered with the shire.
“We’ve also got the green wedge to protect, so we have pressure on our urbanised areas.
“It is a complex and difficult issue but there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not talking about it, or trying to understand it, or listening to people in our community.”
The shire’s outreach tool is featured in the guide. It is used by Mornington Peninsula Housing Network to help clients who are homeless “build trust and establish and work towards individual goals”.
Research by the City of Monash found that councils were well placed to address homelessness as local laws officers, parks staff or contractors often interacted with people sleeping rough on public land and facilities.
“Often out of concern, local businesses and residents are also likely to contact councils’ customer service staff to report people experiencing homelessness,” the research found.
Mornington MP and Opposition housing spokesperson David Morris said social housing was a “key factor in the fight against homelessness”.
He criticised the state government for not releasing social housing waiting list data for the June quarter.
“The number of Victorian applicants on the social housing waiting list has soared since Labor came to power, jumping from 34,618 in September 2014 to almost 51,000 in the March 2021 quarter – a 47 per cent blowout,” Mr Morris said.