We need to work together to end homelessness- Meg Webb

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

Homelessness can touch the lives of almost anyone. The unexpected combination of only a few life events – the loss of a job, a serious health crisis, family breakdown or family violence - can lead to someone facing homelessness.

This year, the global COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on employment and our economy is driving many new groups of people into homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

We also know that there are structural drivers of homelessness too, which put people at much higher risk. Things like the severe lack of affordable housing in Tasmania, low incomes and insecure work, and insufficient support for those leaving state care or custody.

As we recognise Homelessness Week this year, from 5 -12 August, the global COVID-19 pandemic has added even more urgency to its theme, Everybody Needs a Home.

Home is more than just a roof over your head.

A home gives you a sense of security and belonging. It is a foundation to engage with employment or education, a place to socialise and connect with others, a place for families to be together. Importantly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a home is a place where you can safely manage your health, self-isolate if necessary and ensure the community is not put at risk.

Now, more than ever, homelessness isn’t an issue just for the person or family affected, it’s an issue we must solve together to achieve good outcomes in health, employment, safety and a strong community.

In Tasmania, we have seen a significant impact from the COVID-19 emergency on newly arrived refugees and Temporary Visa Holders (TVH). Many have lost jobs, are struggling to pay rent and have limited access to government support. Some have no income at all.

One service provider in Tasmania reports a 150% increase in demand for emergency relief by temporary visa holders over the last four months compared to 2019 levels.

Refugees, international students and skilled migrant workers leave family, friends and social connections, investing time and money to come to Tasmania. COVID-19 travel restrictions mean many can’t simply ‘go home’. Homelessness is a very real possibility.

These are people who have come to our State, contributed to our community and our economy and, in many cases, have been left with very little support during the COVID-19 emergency.

Everyone deserves to have their basic needs met. Tasmania has a duty of care to all its residents, regardless of when they arrived and where they were born.

As we continue to plan for our health, social and economic recovery in Tasmania, we need to ensure that all our members of our community are supported, including those who are have migrated here, are here for study or work, and those who have arrived seeking asylum.

Looking at the longer term, it’s in all our interests to end homelessness in Tasmania. Not just chip away at the edges, but actually make a clear plan to end it.

The 2016 census showed 1,622 Tasmanians were experiencing homelessness. The majority of these were under the age of 44 years, with four in ten under the age of 25 years.

Our Specialist Homelessness Services assist thousands of Tasmanians each year, but they struggle with not enough capacity to meet the need in our community. Twenty-eight people a day are turned away from short term and emergency accommodation in Tasmania, and that number is increasing.

With a lack of affordable housing in the community, many people get stuck in a cycle of repeated homelessness. There are over 3,500 people on the waiting list for public housing in Tasmania, with priority applicants facing a 59 week wait to be housed.

This is an issue that can only be solved by putting politics aside and planning a collective, long-term solution. All sides of politics, at both a state and federal level need to make this a priority, so that with bold, long-term planning and investment we can build a strong, healthy community that leaves no one behind.

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