While we may not see them on our streets and in our parks, Homelessness Australia latest reports suggest 45, 813 women in Australia experience homelessness on any given night. Driven by systemic issues such as domestic violence and poverty, Australian women are the invisible homeless who are forced to live out of their cars, sleep on friend’s couches or find a home in women’s crisis refuges. Covid-19 has only compounded and intensified this violence towards women. It has brought into focus the severity of gender equality across the Australian workforce, in Australian homes and family units and across Australian society as a whole. Like other crisis issues such as domestic violence and poverty, health crises such as Covid-19 are a gendered issue. Covid-19 has also brought into focus the proximity in which all of us sit to the homelessness experience. It has forced us to re-examine how many pay checks, house evictions or job losses we are away to the homelessness experience and has confirmed one of Women’s and Girls Emergency Centre’s (WAGEC) founding principles which is that homelessness could happen to any of us.
Since 1977 WAGEC has been providing safe spaces for women* and families impacted by the effects of domestic and family violence, homelessness and systemic disadvantage. This year we are joining the Everybody Needs a Home Campaign by calling on members of Federal Parliament to join the Pledge supporting the building of social and affordable housing, creating jobs, and overall help end homelessness. By creating secure, stable and long term social and affordable housing, we can promote a safe future for all women and their families.
As Everybody’s Home outlines, the number of Australians experiencing homelessness is growing every year because of skyrocketing rent and shortage of social housing. We also know that domestic violence is one of the main drivers of homelessness for women. This has been confirmed with 39% of service providers reporting an increase in demand and increasing rates of domestic violence.
At WAGEC we believe it takes a community approach to overcome the structural and systemic disadvantage that leaves women at the receiving end of poverty, domestic violence and homelessness. We know that 36% of all people assisted by Specialist Homeless Servies (SHS) were categorised as single parent families with children, the great majority of these families headed by a woman. We know that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there were 50, 000 people on the waiting list for social housing across NSW and that even when a woman is offered a social housing placement, it is often in an area that feels unsafe or dangerous. We know that many women will often decide to return to a violent partner or family situation because they consider this to be a safer option than the alternatives.
Any solution to addressing homelessness for women and children must have affordable, safe and sustainable housing at its center. However other crucial issues must also be taken into consideration including access to affordable child care, flexible employment and gender pay equity.
In March 2020, the government announced a 21 million funding boost for domestic and family services in response to the covid-19 pandemic. For services that provide crisis response to women, the money was well received. A further 36 million has been announced to provide 2-year accommodation to homeless Australians, the primary target for this assistance being rough sleepers and those assisted into temporary accommodation, a group mostly comprised of men. While these funds have been foundational to supporting homelessness services with crisis response and short-term housing alternatives, what is needed to support women and children experiencing domestic and family violence is long term, safe and affordable housing. To date, very limited funding has been allocated to providing support long term housing options for women.
At WAGEC we believe that only until we overcome structural gender inequality across a spectrum of services can we begin to confront systemic issues within community. Without additional social housing vulnerable women and children will remain in crisis and transitional housing for longer than is appropriate and places additional pressure on the crisis housing response system. Tragically, it also places additional stress and anxiety on women and children who are already exposed to high stress, fear and anxiety. Additional pressures added around house insecurity and the risk of homelessness is unjust and unacceptable.
For homelessness week, we’re joining the Everybody’s Home Campaign and asking you to show your support for safe, long term social and affordable housing. The housing system is at capacity and immediate action is required. It is critical to promote the safety, well being and best possible outcomes of women and children.
To sign the pledge, click here!
To download WAGEC's Everybody Needs a Home Poster, click here! We encourage you to share this message, whether that be through hanging the poster in your workplace or class room or sharing it across your social media platforms. Just remember to tag #BuildSocialHousing in solidarity.