THE state government is being called on to spend $100 million on social housing on the Mornington Peninsula.
Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Anthony Marsh says 3000 homes are needed “just to meet the demand of 2934 in desperate need of a home”.
The shire’s call for the state to build more homes, make it mandatory for “social or affordable” housing to be included in new housing projects, support crisis accommodation and improve public transport comes during national Homelessness Week 1-7 August.
“Homelessness isn’t just happening to someone else in another place. It’s experienced by many in our community. Together, we can make a difference,” Marsh said.
Rising rents and property values meant a growing number of residents were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless on the peninsula, including many elderly residents.
Marsh said women and children were “disproportionally affected, often due to family violence”.
The first of three public forums to increase awareness of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing on the peninsula will be held later this month in Mornington.
Increasing living costs, decreasing housing affordability and social disconnections have been identified as contributing to increased homelessness on the peninsula.
Organised by community advocacy group Peninsula Voice and hosted by the chief executive of the Mornington Community Information and Support Centre, Ben Smith, the first forum will discuss the “hidden problem” of homelessness.
Smith said the forum would shine a light on the opportunities “in front of us if we choose to work together as a community”.
“How well we understand the key drivers of homelessness and the impact it has on individuals and our community is a critical first step to finding workable solutions,” he said.
“Those of us at the frontline have seen significant increases in demand from people in need with increasingly complex issues requiring additional assistance. Already stretched services are being pushed to the limit, so engaging the community on this issue now is critical.”
Smith, who has worked in the sector for more than 15 years, said a “perfect storm” of increasing living costs, decreasing housing affordability and social disconnections was contributing to a drastic increase in homelessness on the peninsula.
He has called for a review of the council regulations around short stay accommodation – including the possibility of creating short term precincts to free up hundreds of holiday properties and make them available for medium- and long-term rental.
“It would cause a few ruffles, but what’s more important,” Smith said.
He praised the shire council’s proactive approach and said it was “listening”.
“The shire doesn’t have many levers to address homelessness and housing affordability, but that’s one they have,” he said.
Smith said the community service had just experienced its busiest three months on record and an increase in demand for homelessness services of more than 25 per cent this year.
One recent example of the difficulties of the housing market involved a mother and her children who rented a house in Mount Martha but were told the new owners of the house had decided to increase the rent by $150 a week.
“So, she’s up against others looking for somewhere cheaper in a tough market and will have to move the kids to different schools, that’s the story we are hearing every day,” Smith said.
Despite the growing housing crisis, he said, the state government was not encouraging the building of affordable accommodation.
“It’s incentivising profit making instead,” he said.
President of Peninsula Voice Peter Orton said that when bad things happen in communities, “we are all damaged”.
“As it is, we don’t understand homelessness and we don’t know how to respond,” he said. “Peninsula Voice tries to look at problems ‘upstream’, in other words dealing with the problems that cause the homelessness.
“People think it’s too hard but, if we don’t do anything, we will become like America.”
Orton said the homelessness forum would hear from people experiencing homelessness, battling with housing affordability, and experts in the field who are helping and advocating for those in these circumstances.
In the past three years, the priority wait list for Victorian public housing register has increased by 25 per cent on the peninsula (981 in 2019 to 1225 in 2022) but there is still no crisis accommodation.
While demand was soaring, the number of affordable and appropriate homes in Victoria available for rent halved in the past 12 months.
The free forum will be held at 6.30pm on Wednesday 24 August at the Peninsula Community Theatre, 91 Wilsons Road, Mornington. For more information about Peninsula Voice and to register, go to peninsulavoice.org.au
On Saturday (6 August) Fusion’s Sleep In Your Car event starts at 5.30pm at Mornington Park. Details: mornpen.vic.gov.au/sleepinyourcar