’Cruel’: Crisis grows in plain sight

Leading homelessness services say the sector is ‘overwhelmed’ and at capacity. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Ascui

Australia’s homelessness services are “overwhelmed” and “overrun” as organisations are forced to turn away hundreds of vulnerable Australians needing help this winter.

Melbourne City Mission head of policy and advocacy Shorna Moore said the service was experiencing an uptick in the number of people needing help, with numbers within some of their programs doubling in just 48 hours.

As Victoria’s largest youth homelessness service provider, MCM’s refuges are at capacity each night, Ms Moore said, with many young people told “there just isn’t a bed for them”.

Melbourne City Mission head of policy and advocacy Shorna Moore says the organisation’s refuges are at capacity each night. Picture: Supplied
Melbourne City Mission head of policy and advocacy Shorna Moore says the organisation’s refuges are at capacity each night. Picture: Supplied

“As a result, they are often forced to choose between sleeping outside in the freezing weather or returning to a violent home,” she said.

Ms Moore said winter was an “especially cruel time” for Australians without a home.

“Winter brings more dangerous conditions for people forced to sleep outside and in their cars and at Melbourne City Mission we are seeing people literally struggling to survive,” she said.

“We are supporting a lot of younger people and older people with material aid who are seeking warmth where they can, including amphitheatres and empty properties.”

Proud Kamilaroi woman Imogen Johnstone understands the “cruel” challenges winter’s freezing temperatures can bring for homeless people across the country.

At 14, Ms Johnstone was forced to leave her home in rural Victoria due to family violence and travel to Melbourne in search of services that could help her.

While Ms Johnstone was able to engage in Melbourne City Mission’s Frontyard Youth Services, as a teen she spent four years couch surfing and sleeping rough.

Homelessness Story
Proud Kamilaroi woman Imogen Johnstone first experienced homelessness at just 14, now a decade on, she is using her lived experience to help other vulnerable Victorians. Picture: David Crosling

“I slept outside in parks and train stations and received some emergency relief; however, this did not meet my basic human needs and rights,” she said.

“The winter months were torture. I remember sleeping one night alone on a park bench in the freezing cold and I couldn’t get warm. I didn’t sleep the whole night as I felt so unsafe and cold.”

Now 24, Ms Johnstone uses her own experience to help change the situation for other children who are alone and homeless.

The young woman is part of the Home Time campaign, which is calling on the government to dedicate 15,000 tenancies to children and young people who have nowhere to live.

Homelessness Australia chief executive officer Kate Colvin said the lack of resources within

Australia’s homelessness sector was “just devastating”, noting the number of homeless people

receiving assistance remains stagnant despite rising rates of homelessness across the country.

Queensland Rental Crisis
Experts say there is not enough social and public housing available to help tackle Australia’s homelessness crisis. Picture: NewsWire/Tertius Pickard

“They (services) have basically got scarce resources, and they have to allocate them to essentially the most vulnerable person coming through the door,” she said.

“Homelessness workers come to work because they want to help their fellow citizens who are really struggling and need this help and they just don’t have the resources they need.”

Homelessness services across the country turn away 295 people each day, with four in five of these being women or children, according to a 2022-23 specialist homelessness services annual report.

A report on government services found more than 57,500 people were identified as in need of accommodation but weren’t provided with any between 2023 and 2024.

Australia’s leading homelessness services say hundreds of Australian’s needing help each day are being turned away. Picture: Glenn Campbell/NcaNewsWire

St Vincent de Paul Society South Australia chief executive Evelyn O’Loughlin said there were not enough crisis services to meet the growing number of South Australians sleeping rough.

Ms O’Loughlin said there is a “bottleneck” in the system due to a lack of all types of housing, which means those sleeping in crisis centres are unable to transition into more secure housing options.

“We know that people are staying with us up to six months and longer in our crisis centre, which means that people in crisis can’t get in because the people that we have got in there can’t move on,” she explained.

“There is just not enough social and public housing, I believe, across the whole of Australia but certainly in South Australia.”

Ms O’Loughlin said when the housing situation could no longer meet the demands of those in need, “the rest of the system doesn’t flow”.

With her organisation only receiving 7 per cent of funding from the government, Ms O’Loughlin said the government must “step up” and do more to better fund homelessness services across the country.