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Australia Federal Government warned about rising risk of homelessness from COVID-19

01:41  28 september  2020
01:41  28 september  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Homelessness experts say 30,000 additional properties are needed over the next four years. (ABC News Margaret Burin) © Provided by ABC Health Homelessness experts say 30,000 additional properties are needed over the next four years. (ABC News Margaret Burin)

More than 300 community groups have warned tens of thousands of Australian families could be left homeless as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic if the Federal Government does not boost support for social housing projects in this year's Budget.

Charities have been inundated with requests for help from people who can no longer pay their rent because they have lost their job due to coronavirus restrictions.

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It's led hundreds of organisations to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to increase Federal Government support for affordable housing.

Kate Colvin is leading the Everybody's Home Campaign, and said 30,000 properties need to be built over the next four years.

"It is a way to kill two birds with one stone," she said.

"It fixes this problem of homelessness but also addresses unemployment because building housing creates jobs."

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Demand increasing

The pandemic has changed the profile of people who need cheap housing, and placed extra pressure on a system that already does not meet demand.

Ms Colvin is worried the number of people waiting for an affordable rental property will continue to grow unless the Government provides cash to build more homes for those with little to no money.

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"There's more than 160,000 Australian families waiting for public housing or Indigenous housing, and many wait years," she said.

Launch Housing helps people in Melbourne find rental properties, and its Chief Executive Officer Bevan Warner said demand for assistance has skyrocketed.

"We are still seeing very strong demand, it's in the hundreds of people per day and we are noticing a 40 per cent increase in the last few months with a different type of client coming to us," he said.

Organisations like Launch Housing have observed people who usually have regular but insecure work and have never sought help in the past are now needing assistance.

Mr Warner said there had been a "stampede" on cheaper private rentals across Melbourne, which pushed the most vulnerable out of the market and forced them to wait for public housing.

He warned if the Federal Government did not invest in more affordable housing, there would be a greater number of people without a roof over their head.

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"We will see an increase in street-sleeping in capital cities, we will see an increase in people sleeping in cars," Mr Warner said.

"The community will bear the extra cost of treating homeless in the streets rather than solving it [because] it costs more to treat homelessness than it costs to solve it."

Living the nightmare

Lisa is one of the hundreds of thousands of people on the social housing waiting list.

About six weeks ago, the 42-year-old had no choice but to leave her Melbourne home because her ex-partner was emotionally abusive.

"I knew it wasn't good to stay but it was really hard to leave," she said.

It's not the first time Lisa has been homeless and she said in the past it has been hard to find a home.

"I've done the whole couch surfing, staying at friends' places. I then went through a phase where I was actually on the street for a good four-and-a-half years, so that was tough," she said.

She is now in emergency accommodation, with her name on the social housing list, but will continue to look for a private rental in the meantime.

"Home is my identity and if I don't have a home I can't be the person I want to be because there is that uncertainty," she said.

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Homes and jobs

Ms Colvin said building more social housing would not only create jobs for the construction industry, but help other Australians who want to work.

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"If you are homeless you can't go out and look for a job, you can't stay in education, your kids can't participate properly in school and everyone's health suffers when they experience homelessness," she said.

Her sentiment is echoed by Mr Warner, who said investment in social housing will help people across the socioeconomic divide.

"It's been the history of Australia that every national government at a time of national crisis has acted in a bipartisan way with significant investment in public and community housing to both support jobs, support the economy and to produce an enduring social benefit," he said.

The Federal Government is yet to respond to the ABC's request for comment.

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