Victorians remain in crisis as wait times for housing blow out

SUPPORTED: Maree and Lisa are feeling safe and stable living in Salvation Army accommodation after escaping abuse and violence into homelessness. Pictures: Adam Trafford
SUPPORTED: Maree and Lisa are feeling safe and stable living in Salvation Army accommodation after escaping abuse and violence into homelessness. Pictures: Adam Trafford

Crisis accommodation is under so much pressure, waiting times for medium and long-term accommodation have blown out from three months to more than a year.

The Salvation Army said a lack of affordable housing properties in Victoria's Central Highlands was causing a backlog in homelessness services and limiting their ability to help people in crisis.

"The whole system is blocked up," Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness manager Kellie Brown said.

"We should be able to help a lot more families than we are at the moment but we are not going to kick our families out into homelessness just to help the next person. It defeats the purpose."

Maree, not her real name, has been living in Salvation Army housing in Ballarat with her two young grandchildren for about two months.

To have your own space gives you power and control over your life again.

Sonia LeFevre, Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness

She left her home interstate when a family violence situation escalated to the point she did not feel safe to return.

Maree and the children had only one suitcase each, with no chance for them to pack all they needed.

Within a few months of arriving in Ballarat they were offered a Salvation Army unit.

"Our life has changed 10-fold," she said.

"I am not so stressed out because I am not walking on eggshells all the time worrying about what is going to happen. I can just be nan and raise these kids the way they deserve to be raised."

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Maree said she could not afford most private rental options on her carers payment and a lack of references was a big barrier to securing a property.

Maree's daughter also needed help from the Salvos.

She was living in a converted shed at a friend's house while pregnant and is now living in a motel with her newborn baby.

DIRE NEED: Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness program leaders Kellie Brown, Sonia LeFevre and Louise Jeffrey say more affordable housing is needed.

DIRE NEED: Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness program leaders Kellie Brown, Sonia LeFevre and Louise Jeffrey say more affordable housing is needed.

Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness service supports 150 women, children and young families at any one time.

People experiencing homelessness reach out to Uniting as the entry point to services in Ballarat and can then be referred to Salvation Army.

The service manages 18 crisis and transitional accommodation units specifically for women with children, young families or women who are pregnant and experiencing homelessness.

But support can be offered to those who are not able to be housed in one of the units.

Family support is provided through a childcare centre, child-focused case management, a mentoring program for young people, parenting programs and parenting support.

"We look at the family as a whole. We look at mum and children and what we can do to support the whole family," Salvation Army Ballarat child and youth services team leader Louise Jeffrey said.

Lisa, not her real name, and her two young children moved to Ballarat in November to escape abuse.

"We didn't have anywhere to live... but we had to get out," she said.

"It was a little bit scary but at the same time I felt relief that I was getting the kids out of that environment."

The family lived with a friend, with Lisa continuing to sleep on the couch, until they were offered a unit through Salvation Army.

Housing has to be affordable for people to manage. Whether that be private rental, community housing, social housing, public housing, it is all about that affordability.

Kellie Brown, Salvation Army Ballarat homelessness

Lisa said she felt safer and calmer with a place to call home and the stability created massive positive change in her children.

Her son is now back at school full-time after being pulled out last year due to social, behaviour and learning difficulties created by stress and her relationship has improved with her daughter.

"We have become a lot closer now we are finally starting to get some sort of normality," she said.

"We have reintegrated my son into school... the only time he really has issues now is when he starts getting stressed out."

Lisa is currently battling a mental struggle to be able sleep in her bed, after sleeping on a couch for so long.

For now, she is continuing to sleep on the couch in the unit despite having her own room and a bed.

"I am feeling a lot better about the future," she said.

"I am not sure what the future is at the moment but we are in a better environment to get somewhere more positive."

Ms Jeffrey said it was fantastic to be able to help Lisa and Maree during their time of need, but people who were not able to access housing were stuck in difficult situations.

"It is really tough for those people who haven't got to our programs yet because they may still be couch surfing, living in cars, going to friend's houses and waiting, waiting for that phone call to come saying we have a vacancy," she said.

"It used to happen a lot quicker than it is happening now."

Ms Jeffrey said the tight Ballarat rental market and lack of affordability made private rental an out of reach dream for many people experiencing homelessness.

Ms Brown said this meant there were more people in crisis, but also a backlog in services because there was no exit point from crisis accommodation into medium or long-term housing.

"We used to take people on when they were in crisis, give them a certain amount of support whether it be three to six months and then we would be able to assist them to move into medium term accommodation until longer term options came up," she said.

"That is not happening now. We are providing that crisis support but then there is nowhere for those families to go to in the medium term. They stay with us until they get a long term option now."

"Crisis is meant to be six to eight weeks and we have families staying there for over 12 months," Ms Jeffrey said.

Mother's Emergency Accommodation team leader Sonia LeFevre said Salvation Army was supporting more women, children and young families staying in hotels and motels than ever before.

Ms Brown said the support staff could provide was limited while people were in those high stress situations because their focus was on survival, on food that day and sleep that night, rather than longer term goals.

"It is important we are there helping because emotional support in that time is crucial, but it is frustrating because we want to do the next things like helping with kids and we want to do more for mum," she said.

"All those extra things that make life not just bearable, but more holistic and more fulfilling for the whole family. That is a very difficult thing to do when you don't have the basic house and that stability."

"That is exactly what it is. Being stable. Knowing you have got that front door you can go in and it is yours," Karen said.

"To have your own space gives you power and control over your life again," Ms LeFevre said.

Ms Brown said services, government and community needed to work together to address these issues.

"Housing has to be affordable for people to manage. Whether that be private rental, community housing, social housing, public housing, it is all about that affordability," she said.

Homelessness Week runs from August 1 to 7 with an aim to raise awareness of the impacts of homelessness and the importance of housing as a solution.

People experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness in Ballarat can contact Uniting on 5332 1286 or by calling the 24-hour Victorian hotline on 1800 825 955.

This story 'The whole system is blocked up': Wait times for crisis housing blow out first appeared on The Courier.