Reducing homelessness in the City of Melbourne

By Rob Pradolin – Housing All Australians

Welcome to the second last article of our 12-part series which will attempt to explore the role that housing can and should play within Australian society and why it is important to our economy that we house all Australians, rich or poor. 

This series intends to draw on a range of perspectives centred around housing and homelessness. We will hear a range of views from business, the not-for-profit sector and hopefully government, as to why they believe housing is an important social and economic building block for Australia’s future prosperity.  

This month we have asked Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp to share her thoughts around why the objective around housing all Australians is important, especially within the City of Melbourne …

Surviving a Melbourne winter without safe and warm accommodation is a brutal challenge that too many Melburnians are forced to endure each year. 

Reducing homelessness remains one of my top priorities. Melbourne is a caring city but we need to do more to help and support those experiencing homelessness – particularly those sleeping rough on our streets each night. 

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed what was possible when different levels of government, service providers and the local community agreed on mutual goals and cooperated to deliver a stellar outcome. Everyone sleeping rough on our city streets was offered accommodation in inner-city hotels. 

This was not a perfect solution but it showed what was possible when we focused on what could be achieved rather than the reasons why something couldn’t be done. That same spirit of cooperation remains but it is true that more people have returned to sleep rough on our city streets. 

We have already shown how quickly and effectively we can reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness when critical circumstances, such as a pandemic, demand action. We cannot lose this momentum and I am committed to continuing my campaign of advocacy and delivery on this issue. 

Unlike some neighbouring councils, the City of Melbourne wants to secure as much of the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build investment into social and affordable housing as we can. 

We want more of the investment in public housing by the government delivered within our municipality and we want more investment in affordable rentals from the private-sector and community housing providers. 

The City of Melbourne has commissioned research on the current level of affordable housing within the municipality and longer-term consequences if we don’t act now. In 2019, it was estimated that we had a shortfall of 5500 affordable homes in the City of Melbourne. By 2036, this shortfall will grow to 23,200 affordable homes.

These are more than just numbers and statistics. Every time that number increases it means a Melburnian or a local family misses out on the accommodation they need to have a secure future in our city. 

There is a wide range of people who experience homelessness. People experiencing financial hardship, domestic violence, mental health and other acute health issues are forced to sleep on our streets, live in their cars or are constantly on the move between friends and acquaintances never really knowing how long they are welcome. 

Secure and affordable housing options for everyone in need is the right thing to do and is also the best investment we can make. Every dollar invested into housing saves multiple dollars needed to deliver services over the long term. Homelessness is often cited as a complex issue with complex solutions but it’s really quite simple: people deserve a safe place to sleep every night and cannot address their problems, and ultimately flourish, without appropriate accommodation. 

The City of Melbourne is continuing to work on a project to deliver an increase in the number of beds available for those sleeping rough, with appropriate support services. We are hoping to be able to announce the details of this soon. 

Our city has been through a devastating 18 months. We started 2020 with thick choking smoke from the national bushfire crisis and then Melbourne was hit harder than any other city in Australia by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The challenges to overcome can sometimes seem insurmountable but I am always buoyed by the courage, resilience and spirit of Melburnians. 

During the most difficult period that we have faced as a city for generations, there have been so many stories of individuals that have gone out of their way to care for family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and even total strangers. 

We are a city that is distinctive because we believe in, and invest in, the connections we make with other Melburnians. 

I want to encourage everyone to consider how best each of us can help a fellow Melburnian experiencing homelessness this winter. 

Starting with a genuine conversation that can literally be life-changing for someone who is experiencing homelessness.

Not just “we can do this”, but “we must do this” Melbourne.

I hope you found the above perspective by Melbourne’s Lord Mayor interesting and insightful. While what was said may not align with our view of the world, we all need to listen and digest what is said by others in order to find common ground. This is why we are focusing on the fact that the provision of shelter is a fundamental human need (not human right) and without that need being met, we have unintended social and economic consequences that will span generations. 

We have been working with the Lord Mayor and her Team on “the project” she referred too, and we have a group of amazing organisations that have offered their skills and expertise and skills, which would normally equate to around $3.5 million in costs, on a pro bono basis to help vulnerable Melbournians.

As I said in my first article, doing nothing is NOT AN OPTION! We need to act and we need to act now. All of us need to be part of the solution so please feel free to write to me with your thoughts: [email protected]

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