blue mountains

Local solutions to end homelessness

Penrith City Gazette

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At the Blue Mountains Theatre & Community Hub – where the community came together to prepare for the Heading Home – Ending Homelessness Here registry week

Negative gearing, capital gains tax, supply, tax reviews and development zoning. These topics provide a plethora of debatable content and commentary opportunities for those in the field of giving out advice and opinion on one of our country’s biggest challenges  – housing affordability. These are all important policy issues but are we addressing the needs of those who are most vulnerable in our society?

Some people aren’t waiting around for the answer. This group of people are action-oriented community-doers and they’re providing new insight and innovation into helping find solutions to housing those most in need. For the people they are focused on helping, not only has home ownership become out of reach but due to various circumstances the capacity to rent in the private market is often beyond their means.

The group was formed under the banner Heading Home – Ending Homelessness Here and is led by western Sydney’s Wentworth Community Housing in partnership with Mission Australia and Platform Youth Services. Importantly these community organisations are working with the business and wider community on local solutions and they are ready to push the boundaries to make change. These are people who see that it is going to take as much collaboration as a community can muster and very practical outcomes.

Of the 78 people experiencing homelessness who were recently surveyed as part of the Heading Home registry week across Penrith, the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, 66 were individuals and 12 were families. The Heading Home group feel that achieving functional zero homelessness is an achievable goal across the region.

How are they doing this?

  • Finding housing solutions as the first step so people at risk of or experiencing homelessness have the security of a home
  • Forging partnerships with specialist service providers to provide support to those who are most in need. Mental illness and domestic violence services are two high priority examples
  • Helping people prepare for and find employment, and transition to independence

One promising possibility when it comes to housing solutions is tiny homes.  In Penrith, with the right land, functional and aesthetically attractive design, and community support, tiny homes could be the solution for some people. The provision of support services is also important. It is never about just putting people into homes.

Although a first for western Sydney, there are pilot projects in development across the country. Work is being done in Gosford by the Tiny Homes Foundation to build a village on council-donated land. In Victoria, $4 million was recently privately donated towards building a number of single-unit dwellings on land owned by VicRoads, earmarked eventually for infrastructure development but currently sitting unused. The thinking here, why not use the vacant land while we can? And just ensure the units are mobile.

In the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, secondary dwellings are being explored as solutions to rental housing for those who desperately need it. This could be a single older person who has no superannuation savings, a family escaping domestic violence, a small business owner whose financial circumstances have dramatically changed; people who desperately want a secure home and the support to help them get back on their feet. There’s no experiencing homelessness ‘type’. Sometimes it’s merely a few steps from high paid employment to homelessness, and increasingly concerning is the number of older women experiencing homelessness.

This work is building at a time when the issue of homelessness is coming to a head in the Penrith CBD, where business owners have expressed concerns to Penrith City Council about people sleeping rough in the Judges carpark. The issue of homelessness absolutely deserves our attention, although commentary around those experiencing homelessness could equally do with some fact checking.

Whether those experiencing homelessness are finding shelter in carparks, riding the trains from the Blue Mountains to the city and back again to feel safe, or sleeping along the banks of the Hawkesbury River in tents, the issues are complex and will not be fixed by moving people on or offering one dimensional solutions to housing affordability.

It’s evident by those working on-the-ground trialing practical, local solutions that we don’t always need to look to government to provide us with the answers. Investment is key, and it’s the community coming together to ensure these projects are predominantly self-funded that will help guarantee success and sustainability. Even with the most complex issues sometimes the best solutions are created locally by those who are driven to give something a go.

This article by Melissa Grah-McIntosh originally appeared in the Penrith City Gazette as Solutions to end homelessness

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