FAMILIES are sleeping in their cars in petrol stations and other public car parks around the Mornington Peninsula, as housing affordability and the rental crisis worsens.
At the all-night BP stations on Peninsula Link in Baxter, every night at least two cars – sometimes more – pull up in the anonymity of nightfall and park for the night.
The wife of a truckie who sees the despair and dilemma of the car sleepers and contacted The News to say it was heartbreaking and more should be done.
At Rosebud and Rye foreshores rough sleepers and people in cars have access to some all-night toilets and wash rooms.
The drivers find a parking space far enough away to give the illusion of privacy, but close enough to access amenities and provide some semblance of cleanliness and order.
Some curl up on their own with a sleeping bag or clothes for blankets, while others fuss around their children to settle them in for the night. It is a routine many are now used to, since rents have soared, and housing investors target the peninsula.
As revealed this year by market researched CoreLogic, seven of the state’s top eight postcodes for rental increases between January 2020 and 2022 are on peninsula.
In June 2021, the peninsula’s median house price was $1.12 million, and the median rent was $520 a week – higher than greater Melbourne. In some areas prices continue to soar.
Rye, Sorrento, Dromana and McCrae have all recorded an annual growth of least 20 per cent,
Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith says homelessness across the peninsula is getting worse.
“We know at least half of peninsula renters are in financial stress, amid surging rents and an undersupply of social housing,” she said.
There are nearly 400 households in the region supported by the From Homeless to a Home program, but the recent state budget saw its allocation slashed 78 per cent.
The state government has announced an affordable housing rental scheme to address the gap in housing affordability and supply for low to moderate income households experiencing rental stress.
As part of the $5.3 billion Big Housing Build, Homes Victoria’s rental scheme will provide an extra 2400 affordable rental homes in regional Victoria. Under the program, fixed-term rental agreements will be offered for a minimum three years.
But the announcements are cold comfort for rough sleepers, or those on waiting lists.
“When the government promised rough sleepers a home for life and long-term support to get and stay well, it was one of the too few good things to come from the pandemic,” Smith said.
She said the sector had been blindsided by the closure of the successful COVID-instigated emergency housing program, where people were accommodated in hotels and then given short-term housing.
Now the government has announced a new measure to tackle the housing crisis, but there was not much on offer for rough sleepers.
The announcement of $75 million to tackle homelessness over three years will provide capital investment and over time some additional services, but the peak body for Victorian homelessness services warns there no soft landing for rough sleepers.
“Homelessness is more than missing out on a safe bed at night – it creates insecurity which conspires to deprive people of work, education and social opportunities,” Smith said.
Mornington Peninsula Shire declared a housing crisis in 2021 and, in 2022, announced the release of public land for “affordable housing” (“Neighbours fear ‘ghetto-like’ housing” The News 4/4/22).
Salvation Army head of homelessness, Peter McGrath, says the crisis needs a whole of government approach.
He said rough sleeping was taking hold on the peninsula again following the 31 January end of the government’s COVID emergency accommodation plan that saw 1800 homeless people temporarily accommodated in hotels and motels across the state.
“That was a short-term fix, but we need a longer-term solution that see all levels of government working together, with housing-focussed programs that provide accommodation and support,” McGrath said.
He said the state government’s Big Housing Build was “fantastic”, but not a quick fix.
He said the government’s soon-to-be-released 10-year housing strategy would give providers drive and direction.
“That’s the framework, that’s the great driver for us,” he said.
“There are great resources already out there, there are great people doing great work, but we need a long-term driver and a strategy.”