By Celia Adams
As winter firmly establishes its hold across Victoria, the bitter chill only intensifies the stark reality of homelessness in our Goulburn and Ovens Murray regions. The biting cold is not just a meteorological event but a poignant reminder of the urgent, year-round need to address homelessness within our community.
At BeyondHousing, our purpose is unwavering: to end homelessness. We work towards this by providing support to those most vulnerable, those at risk or currently experiencing homelessness, and by increasing the supply of social housing. However, the scale of the crisis goes beyond the capability of any single organisation. The roots of homelessness run deep, intertwined with complex issues such as poverty, family violence, unemployment, mental illness, and the sweeping national crisis of affordable housing. As a community, we must stand together – government, local businesses, and individuals alike – to build a compassionate society where everyone has a place to call home.
The 2021 Census recorded more than 1000 people experiencing homeless across the major centres of Shepparton, Wodonga and Wangaratta with hundreds more living in “marginal housing” like caravan parks or in overcrowded or impoverished dwellings. The figures are more than just statistics – they are a distressing wake-up call. With a significant portion of our community without a home and many more teetering on the brink in unstable or inadequate housing, the need for action has never been more urgent. We require more than just temporary fixes; we need a holistic solution that provides immediate relief but also effectively addresses the fundamental causes.
Firstly, we must augment the supply of affordable housing. The acute shortage of affordable options thrusts vulnerable families and individuals into an unstable cycle, often culminating in homelessness. We urge our local, state, and federal representatives to adopt robust policies promoting the construction and allocation of affordable housing units in our region.
Comprehensive support systems are essential to helping those grappling with homelessness. Accessible primary and mental health services, income levels that place people above the poverty line, efficient job training and placement programs, and a safe haven for victims of family violence are all pivotal components of an effective response. Empowering individuals with the tools they need to rebuild their lives can prevent homelessness from taking root.
Additionally, we must cultivate a community that understands and empathises with the predicament of our homeless neighbours. Stigmatisation and stereotypes form invisible barriers preventing many from seeking assistance and creating hurdles in securing employment and housing. By fostering a climate of understanding and empathy, we can dismantle these harmful prejudices and promote a supportive environment for those battling homelessness.
Homelessness is a complex problem, but it is not insurmountable. Other regions have shown that targeted strategies can yield positive results. In Goulburn and Ovens Murray, we have the knowledge, resources, and community spirit required to shift the status quo.
This Homelessness Week (7-13 August), we are reminded that a home is not a luxury but a fundamental human right. Let’s strive towards a society where everyone can have a safe, warm place to sleep at night, regardless of their circumstances.
Celia Adams is the CEO of BeyondHousing – a homelessness and community housing provider with offices in Wangaratta, Wodonga, Shepparton, and Seymour.