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5 August, 2022

National Homelessness Week: a time to reflect on the housing crisis

NOT-FOR-PROFIT groups are calling for urgent action from government during National Homelessness Week (August 1-7) as the housing crisis across the region escalates.

By Isabella Guzman Gonzalez

Rosies Friends on the Street, Cairns, providing meals and essentials for local homeless people.

Vinnies QLD vice president Dennis Innes said National Homelessness Week allowed organisations such as his to shine a light on the crisis which was getting worse. 

“National Homelessness Week focuses on the crisis out there, and it’s not only in Cairns, it’s across QLD and Australia,” Mr Innes said. 

“We’re trying to bring about a plan from both State and Federal governments to come together and address the housing crisis.” 

Rosies – Friends on the Street Cairns, which provides hot meals, a friendly chat and essentials for people living on the streets, say they have definitely had an increase in people requiring assistance in the past couple of years. 

“The housing crisis has increased the number of patrons that visit Rosies, not only for the rough sleepers but also the couch surfers,” Cairns branch coordinator Eunice Winship said. 

“Rent, living costs, and fuel costs increases have forced young families to attend Rosie’s outreach.” 

With Cairns residents facing a rental vacancy rate of 0.5 per cent and rent costs increasing by 7.3 per cent in the past 12 months, organisations like Vinnies and Rosies have been at the forefront of the crisis.

“We are continuing to see a rise in the need for support in our housing services from residents in Cairns, who are desperately trying to find affordable, available accommodation,” Mr Innes said.

“And I’m afraid the situation has worsened in the last months with the wait list for social housing going up to 27 months in Queensland.

“Tourism is good for Cairns, but Airbnb has played a role in this crisis because people who own properties can earn a better income out of Airbnbs than having a place on a lease basis.

“However, the biggest impact occurred in the last 18 months when about 60,000 people made Queensland home. 

Vinnies QLD Vice President Denis Innes speaking with Vinnies Showgrounds Store Manager Toni Robson
Vinnies QLD Vice President Denis Innes speaking with Vinnies Showgrounds Store Manager Toni Robson

“They’ve come across the borders from New South Wales and Victoria – a lot of them are fairly well cashed up, and they’re buying properties that are already there, not properties that are being built,” he said. 

“We know from stats that the supply of materials for building are scarce, and that puts a strain on construction, but also people buying existing stock means we’re not creating additional stock.” 

The 2021 Census showed that the median weekly rent has increased over 13 per cent since 2016, more and more people are turning to services like Vinnies to help them find accommodation or to advocate with landlords, and it has become increasingly difficult for them to support their clients. 

“Many of our volunteers are stressed because we can’t fulfil our mission,” Mr Innes said. 

“More and more people are coming to us for the increasing rent costs, probably one in two people that we see. 

“I see people’s income statements, and their rents are much as what their wages are.” 

Ms Winship says that is the same case for Rosies but they can only put a band-aid on the issues. 

“Rosie’s supplies mats, blankets, backpacks, beds and other warm bedding and clothing to help those in need,” she said. 

“However, Rosie’s has sought opportunities to help accommodate our patrons in the past. Today, there is no opportunity at all.” 

When it comes to solutions, organisations like Vinnies and Rosies knows that the only way to improve the situation in the long term is through government support.

Although the State Government addressed the housing crisis in the 2022-23 budget, Mr Innes and Ms Winship believe more needs to be done, and it should be a cooperative effort.

“We need a plan,” Mr Innes said. 

“We need a housing strategy – through the initiative released by State Government last year with their Queensland Housing Investment Growth Initiative (QHIGI) and Vinnies has been successful in several proposals that we’ve put forward. 

“That’s a bonus, but we need everybody to come together on this – the Federal Government also needs to come in with a national housing strategy. 

“Government and local governments should be releasing state and local land to residents keen to develop and establish temporary housing at a very low rent to drive down the ever-growing stats,” Ms Winship said.

“But most importantly, reach out to their local communities and seek input on how the community as a whole, working with Local and State Government can help those in our communities who are disadvantaged.” 

Mr Innes said now was the time to address the housing and homelessness crisis with our politicians and urged the community to speak up. 

“We all have a voice,” he said. 

“It’s time to speak up, talk to the politicians, talk to the State Members of Parliament and highlight the desperate situation here in Queensland. 

“And for people who are fortunate enough to have a property that’s available for rent, you should look at it as more than putting a roof over someone’s head, you’re providing a place to call home, and there’s a social responsibility in that.” 

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