There aren’t many social ills as badly misunderstood as homelessness.

And not everyone always just walks past

Several years ago Mission Australia conducted a survey which asked Australians to estimate the number of homeless people on any one night.

Over half believed the figure was less than 10,000. The true number is closer to 90,000. But perhaps the reason people so underestimate the problem is because increasingly homelessness is not about a man sleeping rough on an inner city park bench, but more likely to be a family in the suburbs.

In fact, right now western Sydney is ‘ground zero’ for homeless families.

It’s also a hotspot for young people who are homeless. More than 40 per cent of all homeless people are 24 or under.

The face of homelessness is now more likely to be a teenager ‘couch-surfing’ at a friend’s home, fleeing conflict at home; or a young mum with her kids staying in a shelter having escaped domestic violence.

Our western Sydney services are routinely overwhelmed by families seeking accommodation, emergency assistance or some other form of support.

When we, and other agencies, are unable to provide immediate housing for a family, we do our best to organise an overnight stay in a motel, but many will find themselves either sleeping in their car or returning to unsafe situations in their home.

Our experience is backed up by the official figures which show three-quarters of couples with kids and a similarly high number of single adults with children are regularly turned away from government-funded homelessness services because of a lack of capacity.

The plight of western Sydney’s homeless families has grown worse over the years, exacerbated by Sydney’s lack of affordable housing and high cost of living.

Homeless organisations have worked hard to address the need but have been hamstrung by the fact that traditionally, shelters and support services were based around the city and inner suburbs because, historically, that’s where the need has been.

Accordingly, individuals and families in western Sydney have had to leave their communities – and the networks they and their children relied on, such as schools, jobs, GPs, extended family and friends – to come in to the city to receive help.

Research tells us that one in every five homeless families access services and accommodation more than 20 kilometres from their support networks.

That’s enormously dislocating and is counter productive to us helping them get back on their feet.

Mission Australia had often talked about the need to offer more services in western Sydney and five years ago we decided to put our ‘money where our mouth is’.

The culmination, after five years of planning, fundraising and construction, is the $13.7 million Mission Australia Centre (MAC) Kingswood, which opens today near Penrith.

Featuring 22 two- and three-bedroom units offering a mix of short and medium-term housing and a range of programs to help vulnerable parents and children manage their challenges and prevent homelessness, MAC Kingswood will help an estimated 1000 families each year.

It’s an exciting initiative, a significant response to the problem in the area and one that will make a difference in many people’s lives – but we need to keep our perspective.

Such is the scale of the problem MAC Kingswood remains just one piece of the puzzle.

Sydney’s median asking rent is now $520 a week – the highest it’s ever been.

Anglicare conducted research last year which showed of 10,200 properties for private rent in Sydney and the Illawarra only 123 were affordable for households who rely on income support.

The challenge for us, at MAC Kingswood and elsewhere, is that while we can help homeless families with their accommodation and other needs, when it’s time for them to stand on their own feet there are no vacancies in the private rental market, and little in the way of affordable or social housing, for them to go.

Fewer rental vacancies mean homeless families stay with us for longer. The bottleneck it creates means we have fewer openings in our services for people who need our help.

As long as Sydney’s affordable housing crisis continues the ones who will chiefly bear its brunt are the low income and vulnerable families of the city’s west and outer suburbs.

For MAC Kingswood to reach its full potential, Sydney – and western Sydney – must break its affordable housing chains.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.

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    • Fed Up says:

      05:44am | 26/10/12

      And to think of the billions of dollars wasted by Labor that could of been spent on low/fixed income earners.
      The millions wasted on middle class welfare instead of those who have to live on the streets.

    • James1 says:

      08:51am | 26/10/12

      I don’t think that throwing more money at those on welfare is necessarily a good idea.  The sort of thing outlined in the article is far more effective, if it is coupled with teaching people how to live like regular people and by teaching them the value of work, personal responsibility and sound fiscal management.

      The left has been throwing money at these people for years, and all it has done is entrench the problems they have, and entrench their indolence and lack of personal responsibility.  Time for a new approach, I reckon.

      In other words, no middle class welfare or increases in pensions/welfare payments.

    • Cheeso1 says:

      10:40am | 26/10/12

      I most certainly agree, no more middle class welfare, those nasty “lefties”. Of coures it was honest John Howard and co who presided over the biggest increases in this deplorable racket wasn’t it? Interesting that you’d be inferring he’s a “lefty”

    • James1 says:

      11:03am | 26/10/12

      I’m not inferring that Mr Howard was a lefty at all.  Read my post.  When I refer to the left throwing money at people, I am talking about people on low/fixed incomes, as per Fed Up’s post.  I then go on to say that both middle class welfare and welfare increases for the poor should be resisted, because it will not help anyone in the future in the same way it hasn’t helped anyone now or in the past.

    • TheRealDave says:

      11:22am | 26/10/12

      Funny, the first person to start throwing money at me was John Howard and his Plasma TV bonus and Bribes years before he lost to Krudd in 07…..I like how the LNP shill accounts are pushing that ‘Middle Class welfare’ started in 2008…..

      Is it another case if I say it long enough it becomes true?

    • James1 says:

      11:32am | 26/10/12

      I might be a conservative Dave, but I can still recognise that Mr Howard did some things that were wrong.  Throwing welfare money at the middle class was one of those things.

      I am entitled to my own opinion, but I am not entitled to my own facts, and the fact is that Mr Howard started the middle class welfare train.  Nowhere in my posts do I say otherwise.

    • Gregg says:

      06:14am | 26/10/12

      ” As long as Sydney’s affordable housing crisis continues the ones who will chiefly bear its brunt are the low income and vulnerable families of the city’s west and outer suburbs.

      For MAC Kingswood to reach its full potential, Sydney – and western Sydney – must break its affordable housing chains. “

      And yes, any chance of a discontinuation of an affordable housing crisis is nothing but a dream when you consider continual population increases from many sources and Sydney has a huge target on it..

      Mission Australia are the words and a MISSION all levels of government should have is a co-ordinated approach to decentralisation and nothing short of a multi government department of decentralisation is responsible.

      There has been a mass migration from country centres and small towns to capitals for far too long and governments need to look at what can be done to break that trend, setting up co-ops for people to use non used houses and eventually building homes and for people to produce their own food would be a good start which would have been money far better spent than on a lot of school sheds.

      As per another article, there are probably heaps of older unemployed people, many with skills that may have been able to be utilised on such a program.

    • Big Jay says:

      07:52am | 26/10/12

      @Gregg - “And yes, any chance of a discontinuation of an affordable housing crisis is nothing but a dream…”

      Aside from population growth, the Fed govt has guaranteed the banks, so falling house prices—> mortgage defaults—> banks losing money—> Fed govt up for the shortfall

      The best the people that want affordable housing can hope for is probably whats occuring now, flat prices with inflation and wages rises creeping up.

    • Michael S says:

      09:44am | 26/10/12

      There’s a simple way to restore housing affordability. Cap immigration at the number of new dwellings constructed.

      It’s simple supply and demand. Population has been rising faster than dwelling construction, so with demand rising faster than supply, we’ve seen the price of housing, whether buying or renting, triple in real terms in the last 25 years.
      Only by reversing this, and having the increase in supply outstripping the increase in demand, can housing affordability be restored.

    • Richard says:

      09:47am | 26/10/12

      While the banks are not permitted to fail courtesy of a Fed Govt guarantee of course house prices and rents will remain very high. Will a Liberal Govt remove this guarantee, I don’t think so. Until a New peoples bank dedicated to helping lower income earners purchase housing is established this is the situation.

    • andrew says:

      10:33am | 26/10/12

      Yikes! I wouldn’t be depositing my cash in that bank, sounds like NINJA loans for one and all (and we’ve seen how that went in the US).

    • Richard says:

      11:37am | 26/10/12

      Andrew no I would intend for this bank to make NINJA loans , I was merely referring to a bank that would help lower income workers purchase homes at a realistic longer term purchase period.  Are longer term leases or rent control a viable alternative. All I know is that $520 a week is too much to pay for rent.

    • andrew says:

      12:48pm | 26/10/12

      Longer mortgages make housing less affordable, not the other way round. Allowing 30 year mortgages has raised borrowing power and since vendors will charge what buyers are willing to pay - surprise surprise house prices have gone up. If you jump on a home loan calculator you will see that the amount of interest you pay over the life of a loan goes up exponentially once the mortgage goes beyond 15-20 years - my personal view is that if you can’t pay the mortgage back in full within 15 years you can’t afford it.

    • Peter says:

      09:50am | 26/10/12

      “There aren’t many social ills as badly misunderstood as homelessness.”

      Not by us.  You are the ones using the incorrect meaning of that term.  “Homelessness” to most people does not mean that you are “couch surfing”.  Rather, it is a desperate person with no couch to sleep on, no network of friends to lean on, no home to go back to and no options but a park bench.  They are literally living on the street.  That is homelessness to pretty much everybody accept you and Mission Australia.

      When you play semantic games to bolster your cause you lose credibility.  Credibility is everything in the charity game.  Just look at what happened to the Global Warming movement.  Listen, 100,000 people is a city the size of Darwin.  You cannot say to me with a straight face that we have a city the size of Darwin living on the streets of Australia.  It is absurd.  So, please, stop playing semantic games and you’ll get a better response.

    • Caedrel says:

      11:10am | 26/10/12

      So, what would you call those people suffering the problems that Toby outlines? They don’t have a safe place to live and sleep in, where they can keep their things and call their own - isn’t that what a “home” really is? I find it sad that you think that Mission Australia is “playing semantic games” here - from what I can see, they’re trying to point out to those of us fortunate enough to be able to follow the Punch that homelessness isn’t just limited to the folk we see sleeping rough, and challenging us to think about how we as a society can help them.

    • Peter says:

      11:44am | 26/10/12

      @Caedral, as I said, it’s about credibility.  If you want people to support you on an issue which you think needs attention, the worst mistake you can make is to exaggerate it’s significance or fudge the facts.  When the truth is revealed it undermines the cause.  eg. AGW.  A worthwhile issue suddenly gets ignored because zealots have overstated the case.  People who would have helped you, now turn off.

      This 100,000 figure has been criticised.  It is not the definition used in other Western countries.  It is, in my view, a misrepresentation.  A headline grabber.  It fudges the facts to draw attention to a cause.  That is a mistake.  I don’t care what you want to call a kid sleeping on his friend’s couch, or a backpacker, but he is not a homeless person by any stretch of the imagination so don’t tell us we have it wrong.

    • Claudia says:

      12:53pm | 26/10/12

      @Peter. The information contained in the article is not a misrepresentation nor is it a headline grabber. And your proposition that a kid sleeping on a couch is not a homeless person is an uneducated statement. Do some research; I think you will be surprised.

    • Richard the Lionheart says:

      10:55am | 26/10/12

      Two and three bedroom units at Kingswood? No wonder they don’t want to leave. I thought a studio would be enough for short stay relief with bunks for the kids. I agree with sending these people to the bush. I saw so many empty, cheap rent houses in country towns with schools and pools.

    • TheRealDave says:

      11:25am | 26/10/12

      Sending ‘recent arrivals’ to ‘teh bush’ sounds great in theory…....actually, no it doesn’t. Have you been to ‘the bush’ at any time?? They make participants in the Cronulla riot look multicultural and inclusive.

    • Richard the Lionheart says:

      12:36pm | 26/10/12

      Sorry The Real Dave, I had no idea these shelters were being used for recent arrivals and have always seen the homeless as home grown Australians and therefore keen for a new life in a country town. Good for the kids as well and away from danger.


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