The Northern and Western Homelessness Networks are two aligned networks of fifty Specialist Homelessness and Family Violence Organisations, managing 180 Specialist Homelessness programs operating in Melbourne’s north and west. These services meet bi-monthly to improve responses to people experiencing homeless in the North and West through management of coordinated homelessness service system arrangements, consumer consultation, linkages with allied service sectors and shared professional development.
When people have nowhere to live, they often present to the access point services that provide entry to the homelessness service system. As there is a severe shortage of affordable long term accommodation, the homelessness sector seeks to find short term emergency accommodation options for those presenting.
Across Victoria, there are only 423 crisis ‘beds’ available to people experiencing homelessness and/or family violence. When those beds are full, agencies are completely dependent on the private housing system and they use the limited funds they have available to access low end hotels and private roominghouses.
In 2017 the Northern and Western Homelessness Networks conducted their annual Consumer Survey. In response to feedback received from consumers in 2016, the survey focused specifically on people’s experiences of emergency accommodation. The feedback about purchased emergency accommodation was overwhelmingly negative across a number of domains; in particular, the level of amenity, lack of cleanliness, high cost, and, most importantly, a perceived lack of safety and security. What consumers clearly stated they wanted was safe, secure, self-contained accommodation, with support available when needed.
The feedback provided by consumers about their experience is not particularly surprising, nor is this a new story. Services and the government have known for many years that the accommodation options available are of mixed quality and amenity, andmany are considered unsafe for women, young people and children. The 2009 Rooming House Standards Taskforce Chairperson’s Report highlights the very same issues: “Taskforce members reported that squalid conditions are common. Residents report broken locks, broken doors, a lack of working smoke alarms and dirty or unusable shared facilities such as toilets, showers and kitchens”1 . Whilst this report was focused solely on rooming houses, of which there are still many sub-standard facilities still in operation the problem now includes a substantial number of hotels, which are not subject to the same level of regulation.
The Homelessness Service System is experiencing an increased demand for emergency accommodation as a result of increasing rates of homelessness, which is inextricably linked to Melbourne’s housing crisis, particularly to the severe and growing lack of affordable housing. This has led to an increase in the number of people presenting to the Specialist Homelessness Service System for assistance, but also an increase in the length of time people are requiring financial support to pay for emergency accommodation, due to a lack of longer term accommodation options. There is also a corresponding reduction in available options, with many low cost rooming houses, caravan parks and hotels having closed over the past few years. The result is that some of the worst private accommodation providers continue to flourish in an environment of high demand and lowcompetition.