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Tuesday, 25 October 2016 15:58

A right to home and shelter

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Sr Carmel Hanson rsj 150I have lived with homeless men, women and children for 22 years. Never have I seen such distress and frustration, writes Sister Carmel Hanson rsj, urging us to support the Right to Home Petition which calls on the New South Wales Government to deliver more affordable housing.

I recently had a woman and her two young adult children staying with me. They had been happily renting the same property for 8 years. The owner needed the house for a family member so they needed to move. They had an excellent rental record but to no avail. Before coming to me they had camped in a friend’s back yard for 5 months! In the two months with me this woman applied for over two hundred homes from Lake Macquarie to Maitland. Each application was rejected. Finally she took into the family unit two other young adults and was successful in obtaining a 4 bedroom house at Metford for $500.00 a week. Whilst this was a cause of much rejoicing I wonder what happens when there is a disagreement or one or more of the young people leave the town in search of work or study? This story is not uncommon.

In 1991 when I began to live with the homeless at the House of Hospitality, every person gained accommodation within a couple of months. This may have been a Department of Housing unit/house or a rental property. Any single parent with child/children gained a Department of Housing property within two months. Originally the residents had to save for their rental bond but in later years the Department of Housing paid the entire bond. Rental properties were available and Rent assistance was paid fortnightly.

Today the situation has drastically changed and people are desperate.

Rarely does anyone get a Department of Housing property. The Department thinking is that rental assistance rules out the need for Government Housing. This attitude is disastrous. Housing stability is essential for ongoing health, education and community support.

If a rental property becomes available the Department no longer covers the cost of the Rental Bond. They will forward the bond amount to the landlord but then $40 a fortnight is deducted from the person’s Centrelnk payment. The homeless have to save two weeks rent in advance to go with the bond (approx $400). This is no easy task especially for those on NewStart.

The lower end of the rental market is disappearing and rents have risen. This is not a level playing field. Recipients of Social Security Payments are competing against double income earners. The Hunter has one of the lowest rental property availability per capita in NSW.

There is a great discrepancy between the allowance paid to the unemployed ($492.60 per fortnight and those on a pension (Disability, Carers or Aged - $712.00 per fortnight.) New Start recipients do not receive the concessions afforded to those on a pension. Recently the Government decided to lower the payment of thousands of single mums to that of Newstart. The “old’ Supporting Parents Pension is no more.

I have lived with homeless men, women and children for 22 years. Never have I seen such distress and frustration.

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights [Article 25] states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family including food, clothing, HOUSING, medical care, and necessary social services.”

As a community I believe we have the duty to constantly remind those in government that it is their responsibility to live up to this Declaration. It is not the role of Non Government Organisations and Charities to carry this burden.

My experience with Government is that when the plight of the homeless is raised they refer to their policy on “affordable housing” How ridiculous! How many people on Social Security could ever dream of owning their home?

We need to continually put “more public housing” on our lobbying agenda.

We can bring about change and justice.

“Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead.)

pdf Download and support the Right to Home petition of residents of New South Wales (NSW) and urge the NSW Government to deliver more affordable housing. Please mail original signed petition to St Vincent de Paul Society NSW, PO Box 5 Petersham NSW 2049. (311 KB)

Find out more about House of Hospitality, a ministry of the Sisters of St Joseph in Newcastle NSW to provide a safe, supportive drink/drug free accommodation.

(Photo of Sr Carmel courtesy of Aurora Magazine, a publication of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland Newcastle.)