Australia’s housing affordability crisis is affecting more than just lower income families trying to break into the market, writes Andrew Cairns.
After suffering years of abuse, Louise decided to pack her bags and leave. It was a momentous decision, full of hope for a safer, happier life; a decision many women experiencing domestic and family violence struggle with.
But Louise’s hopes for rebuilding her life with her nine-year-old son were dashed when she couldn’t afford rent. With nowhere to go, they were left homeless, showering in public pools. “Life is so tough now, I would rather be back with our abuser than homeless,” she said.
In a country that hopes to end domestic and family violence, Louise’s story is reason for pause – that a woman who has finally gained the strength to leave an abusive relationship can be driven to regretting her decision is a tragedy.
What’s worse is how common this story is. Many women shared their own experiences during Community Sector Banking’s Social Investment Grants campaign last year. The program aimed to support victims of family and domestic violence or homelessness. Not only did these experiences highlight the increasing demand and pressure on services, they also showed how we are failing to properly address domestic and family violence. But we can’t hope to end it, without improving housing affordability.
Unaffordable housing is a key driver in homelessness. Even if, as reports say, Australia’s housing boom has lost its steam, prices are still far beyond reach for too many. Especially the most vulnerable, such as a woman fleeing abuse with little more than the shirt on her back.
A recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report revealed homelessness is rising among domestic and family violence victims accessing services – the proportion of people who were homeless when they sought help increased over the past five years from 35 per cent to 39 per cent. Overall, 40 per cent of those seeking specialist homelessness services were experiencing domestic and family violence in the 2016 financial year, 38 per cent up on the previous year.
Expensive housing doesn’t just leave people homeless, and makes it harder to leave – it can tear relationships and families apart. Financial stress related domestic violence and homelessness was found to be a very real issue in the US, as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis in the mid-2000s.
If we don’t address housing affordability properly, and financial pressures on households intensify, it’s a safe bet that domestic violence related homelessness will continue increasing.
Services can’t cope with demand as it stands. An estimated 95,390 requests for help from specialist homelessness services were unmet in the 2016 financial year, according to AIHW.
No one should be forced to stay in an abusive situation, or left homeless after fleeing. Surely everyone agrees on this, regardless of political stripes. Surely it’s reason enough for our leaders, and all stakeholders, to come to the table and make a long-term plan to address housing affordability in Australia, which prioritises social and affordable housing.
If we invest in supporting abuse victims on the road to recovery, we will gain long-term rewards, with happier, stronger and more productive communities.
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