COVID-19 and its impact on the housing market has left the Limestone Coast on the precipice of an unprecedented homelessness challenge, according to ac.care. Staff at the agency’s Limestone Coast Homelessness Service have reported a dramatic increase in people in need of support as increased government payments are wound back at the same time as rent costs are stepping up.
“The true impact of the pandemic is now becoming clearer as the economy rebuilds and affordable accommodation rapidly dries up in our regions, leading to alarming waiting lists for housing, including in Mount Gambier,” ac.care chief executive Shane Maddocks said.
“The government must hear the growing consensus in our society that now is the time to increase JobSeeker long-term to a level that is sustainable and allows all people opportunities to afford basic necessities. “Otherwise, despite the best efforts of organisations such as ours, increasing numbers of people may be left unable to afford rent and with nowhere else to go.
“If this crisis is not averted, these families and individuals could tragically be forced into rough sleeping wherever possible at levels not seen before in regional areas such as Mount Gambier, prompting diverse social, health and welfare issues that could be avoided.”
The number of people seeking emergency accommodation at ac.care’s Limestone Coast Homelessness Service has increased by a third over December and January, compared to the same period in 2019/20, jumping from 48 individuals and families to 71.
Meanwhile, the number of people seeking emergency relief, often so they can maintain their tenancy and avoid homelessness, leapt from 113 to 205 for December/January – a 44% increase on figures for the previous financial year. “Our staff in the Limestone Coast are seeing the number of people on the brink of homelessness rapidly increasing as people turn to us to avoid or navigate through crisis,” Mr Maddocks said.
“We are doing all we can to support those unable to afford the cost of increased rent or find a suitable property, however, we are approaching a crisis point with emergency accommodation at capacity and simply nowhere available to provide affordable accommodation.”
Founded in Mount Gambier, ac.care works to ensure all country people have safe homes and enough money to live on, providing opportunities to overcome adversity and build a secure future. “A core part of our work is supporting vulnerable people to maintain or secure tenancies to avoid homelessness,” Mr Maddocks said.
“Last year, our services grappled with new challenges, as did the rest of our society, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting individuals and families as they faced sudden uncertainty over the future of their employment, income and housing security.”
He said significant additional government assistance throughout 2020 had been vital in keeping people safely housed and able to afford necessities. In 2021, after the benefits of living in South Australia and particularly less congested regional areas such as Mount Gambier had become clearer than ever during the pandemic, this had prompted a surge in the housing market, with property prices and rent on the rise.
“While this has delivered economic and lifestyle benefits for some, especially those already in the housing market, it has made it harder than ever for those with less financial capacity to secure affordable housing,” Mr Maddocks said.
He said government spending on social housing had not kept up with demand over recent years, even though more investment in this area would provide an economic stimulus, as well as meeting a vital need going forward. “This issue will not go away without significant government intervention,” Mr Maddocks said.
“The impact of the pandemic is broad and now coming to light more clearly, particularly on the most vulnerable people in our society,” he said. “The government has provided vital support at the peak of the pandemic, which has helped many people avoid potentially tragic outcomes, but pulling out this safety net while the impacts of the pandemic increasingly ripple through our state would be devastating for many Australians.”