The latest announcements from Shelter WA
Many people, already doing it tough with insecure or no housing, are being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the homelessness and housing services that support them.
Homelessness services providers from across Western Australia met to discuss the current and future impact of COVID-19 on their services and their clients. Services, already at full capacity are stretched and face a tsunami of additional pressures as the pandemic’s impact unfolds.
Issues raised included maintaining services if staff or clients are exposed to Covid-19, the problem of sourcing critical supplies, the inability of people who live in boarding or lodging houses or overcrowded homes to self-isolate, and the significant cost and resourcing implications to backfill staff who cannot work. Front and center of discussions was the concern for people who are sleeping rough, who are often unwell and those at risk of falling into homelessness.
“To flatten the curve, we need immediate support for people who experience homelessness or live in overcrowded, insecure and inappropriate housing,” said Michelle Mackenzie, CEO of Shelter WA. ‘Immediate access to housing and accommodation for people to self-isolate is critical, along with targeted, safe outreach services to people sleeping rough, who are often unwell and more at risk.”
“We are hearing that people who are experiencing homelessness are fearful, so access to good information about COVID-19 with targeted response measures including housing and service support must be provided.”
As the economic consequences hit, the flow on to an already stretched social housing and homelessness sector will be acute. Many people are at risk of housing insecurity as they are unable to pay bills, mortgages or rents due to circumstances beyond their control such as illness, self-isolation or job losses. There is an urgent need to support people in the casualised workforce and those on income support to ensure they do not fall into homelessness.
A C-19 response team for homelessness has been established by the homelessness services sector in partnership with Shelter WA to co-ordinate a sector response and to work with government on specific initiatives.
Services are working hard leading measures to prevent and contain the virus, but targeted assistance is required. People experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are especially vulnerable in this outbreak, and we need to pull together to look after all people in our community.
Shelter WA along with the WA Alliance to End Homelessness and WA Council of Social Services are calling on the Federal and State Governments, to develop an urgent package of support. This includes increased outreach support, and access to testing and results for the people whom we support, urgent access to accommodation and housing to enable people to self-isolate, a moratorium on evictions, no exiting of people into homelessness, new funding for services to cover increased staffing and resource costs and access to shared clinical health expertise across the homelessness services system. Also, immediate support for people who lose their jobs to pay their rent to prevent a second wave of homelessness.
Homelessness and housing services must be recognized as critical services if we are to prevent and contain the risk of this virus spreading. Other jurisdictions have acted. We need an urgent response from government before it is too late.
• Over 9,000 people experience homelessness every day across WA.
• Over 4,300 people access specialist homelessness services every day.
• Over 14,000 are on the wait list for social housing.
• Over 6,000 people who live in insecure housing are at risk of homelessness.
Rents remain unaffordable for lower income households, the latest release of the Rental Affordability Index (RAI) reveals. Released biannually, the Rental Affordability Index is an indicator of the price of rents relative to household incomes, based on new rental agreements.
The index shows that a single person on Newstart allowance faces an untenable rental situation. To find an affordable rental property, they would need to spend all their income on rent. This means Newstart recipients are making difficult decisions about having a place to call home, or the basic necessities of living.
“As a society we have created an awful reality for many people,” said Michelle Mackenzie CEO of Shelter WA. “The lack of social and affordable housing in Western Australia means many Newstart recipients are often marginally housed, or in unsafe and unsuitable housing, often without the basic facilities that many of us take for granted. We have a created a society where people, just because they are poor, are at risk of risk of hunger, stress and poorer health. The lack of affordable housing is creating homelessness.”
It is not only people on Newstart who are doing it tough in the rental market. Perth is extremely unaffordable for pensioners, with single pensioner households paying 65 per cent of their income on rent.
“We know that the majority of older people at risk of homelessness are people on income support and that live alone; and from the Census data that the risk of homelessness in older people is increasing rapidly,” said Michelle. “Paying such a large proportion of income each week just to pay for rent means that money is not available for other necessities such as utilities, medicine, food or transport. The lack of secure housing impacts on older people’s health and well-being.”
Perth is also extremely unaffordable for a single parent with a child under five years of age, who is working part time and on income support. Childcare, healthcare and general living costs compound the financial stress of this household. They are spending on average 46 per cent of their income on rent.
The index showed that even households with an average income of $85,900, that rent in Perth, are spending over 21 per cent of their total income on rent. This can expose them to rental stress, which is triggered when you spend 30 per cent or more of your income on rent.
“While Perth rents remain stable overall, for those living on very low or low incomes this is a tough time,” said Michelle Mackenzie CEO of Shelter WA.
“These figures remind decision makers that we need system change. The development of the next WA Housing Strategy 2020-2030 must address rental affordability and housing choice.
“The Federal Government must address the widening gap between household income and fundamental housing costs. Having a stable home enables people to actively participate and contribute to the economy and our community.”
Shelter WA is recommending governments implement the following initiatives:
The report is released by National Shelter, Community Sector Banking, SGS Economics & Planning and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Read the full report here.
Media Contact: Michelle Mackenzie, CEO: (08) 9325 6660
Shelter WA is outraged with the corruption scandal unfolding at the Department of Communities. The seeming ease in which a senior public servant was able to steal funding over such as long period of time is breathtaking. This alleged corruption occurred while services for people who experience homelessness or who are in housing stress are stretched to breaking point.
Western Australia has a social housing crisis. Over 9,000 people experience homelessness each night, and over 14,000 are on the wait list for social housing, with an average wait time of over two and a half years. Each day two out of three requests for assistance from Specialist Homelessness Services are unable to be met. The housing system is broken and needs immediate investment.
The real cost of this alleged corruption is on people. Every day, Shelter WA members see families, children and young people in housing stress, struggling to pay their bills and to make ends meet. Every day our members meet with people who are experiencing homelessness and are in desperate need of a safe place to call home. Too many people are falling between the cracks and are not getting the support that they need. Two out of three requests for assistance from Specialist Homelessness Services are unable to be met due to lack of investment by State government in services.
$25M can go a long way to alleviate this crisis. Over 70 new homes could have been built or support could have been given to 2,100 families to enable them to rent a home, or funding could have been increased for the currently underfunded homelessness services to keep people off the street.
Shelter WA expects the highest standards of integrity from government. Where are the internal checks and balances that ensure funding, desperately needed to support the most vulnerable people in our society, gets to those most in need? Shelter WA looks forward to the investigation by the Corruption and Crime Commission and the independent review of the Housing Authority.
“This is a complete betrayal of all Western Australians including those that contribute through taxes and the community services who work tirelessly, with limited resources, to deliver positive outcomes for people in housing need,” said Michelle Mackenzie, CEO of Shelter WA. “The cost of alleged corruption has impacted individuals and families. Whilst the focus is rightly on the lack of internal controls within the Department, we need to know the impact of this alleged corruption on people in housing stress and on those who experience homelessness.”