REGIONAL homelessness issues were highlighted on Mount Gambier’s main street today as the community walked in support of people affected by the region’s housing crisis during the annual Pride In Your Stride march.
Organised by Uniting Communities and ac.care, the National Homelessness Week walk concluded at ac.care’s Mount Gambier Community Centre, where participants learnt more about challenges faced by people in the region and the services available to help.
“A person who is experiencing homelessness faces a daily dilemma as when they wake up they must move from where they are and walk to find food, services and support,” said Ruby’s Reunification Therapeutic Youth Service senior coordinator Sharon Gray of Uniting Communities.
“The walk across Mount Gambier to ac.care symbolised this daily journey with the community coming together to support those facing homelessness and show that nobody should ever have to walk alone.”
ac.care homelessness and community services manager Trish Spark said ac.care continued to see an increasing number of people seeking support since JobSeeker coronavirus supplements were wound back early this year.
“Sadly, vulnerable people have seen a perfect storm of government payments being reduced at the same time as house prices are going up across the regions, which translates to higher rent, a lack of affordable options and hardship for people as they are priced out of their homes,” Ms Spark said.
“We are doing all we can to support those facing or at risk of homelessness, but people are being left with nowhere to go as the affordable accommodation and social housing is just not available to help keep people housed.”
Ms Spark said the coronavirus supplements showed lifting people out of poverty was possible through greater government support.
She said increased investment in social housing was vital, along with a sustainable increase to JobSeeker, which would have long-term benefits by allowing people to secure independence and a more hopeful future.
“Investing in social housing has not kept up with demand for many years and sadly the current situation is increasingly pricing people out of tenancies and the market, with emergency short-term options filled to capacity and nowhere available for people to move on to, except for a long waiting list,” she said.
Ms Spark said people from all backgrounds were seeking ac.care’s support, including single parents and couples with children, women who had left domestic violence situations and single job seekers.
UNITED: Ruby’s Reunification Therapeutic Youth Service senior coordinator Sharon Gray of Uniting Communities and ac.care homelessness and community services manager Trish Spark highlight the need for more social housing to address the lack of affordable homes in Mount Gambier.
The Limestone Coast Homelessness Service, operated by ac.care, assisted 484 clients last financial year, up from 446 in 2019-20.
However, the number of people seeking support has continued to rise since the end of June.
Sadly, 14pc of the people affected by homelessness and supported by ac.care last financial year were aged under nine years old.
Meanwhile, 32pc of clients were affected by mental health issues and 66pc sought support due to a housing crisis.
“While the buoyant property market is positive for people who already own homes, it is putting housing affordability out of the reach of more people and support must be increased to protect the vulnerable as services are already being pushed to the limit,” she said.
“As the cost of housing goes up, so does the rate of homelessness and government safety nets must strengthen to help those being priced out of homes as we can’t afford to allow more people to be pushed into homelessness.”
A free barbecue lunch was also provided by the Rapid Relief Team as part of the event as service providers, clients and the community gathered in the grounds of ac.care to connect and learn about local services.
Ms Gray and Ms Spark expressed gratitude on behalf of both organisations for the broad support from the community, Rapid Relief Team and businesses, including people who donated shoes in line with the theme of the event to be provided to clients of ac.care, Ruby’s and Uniting Communities.
Anyone in need of support due to financial hardship or housing insecurity in the Limestone Coast, Riverland and Murraylands is urged to contact ac.care on 1300 ACCARE (1300 222 273).
ac.care helps Mark avoid homelessness
MOUNT Gambier man Mark Collins was facing the threat of being left homeless when the house he was renting was sold.
Looking for an alternative home to move into, he found few affordable options in Mount Gambier and experienced competition from around 40 other potential tenants each time he applied for a potentially suitable rental property, prompting him to start exploring the Naracoorte market.
But as he started looking at homes more than an hour north of his hometown, he faced the added risk of isolation away from his valued support network and the services he relied on to assist with his disability.
He began seeing a staff member at ac.care’s Limestone Coast Homelessness Service on a weekly basis, welcoming the opportunity to also pick up donated food and other supplies while at appointments to help extend his budget.
“I was lucky to secure a Housing SA home thanks to the help of ac.care,” Mr Collins said.
“That’s allowed me to stay in Mount Gambier and connected to Chronic Illness Support Limestone Coast and other networks.”
Mark welcomed the broad support provided at ac.care and said he was glad to be part of Friday’s Pride In Your Stride event to highlight issues around housing affordability and availability in the region.
“I rested up to get through the walk today because I wanted to help share an important message,” he said, adding it was a good opportunity to socialise and connect with service providers.
“Lockdown and other restrictions have been tough, so having someone to talk to regularly at ac.care has been wonderful."
HAPPY TO BE HOUSED: Mount Gambier’s Mark Collins was assisted by ac.care to secure a Housing SA home after his private rental property was sold.