Horror rental figure for low-income earners

Tents of homeless people below freeway onramp south of downtown Seattle WA
An extreme shortage of social housing and the rising cost of rent has exacerbated NSW’s homelessness crisis, the report said. Picture: iStock

A leading advocacy body has painted a dire picture of New South Wales’ growing homelessness crisis, with low-income earners only able to afford a mere one per cent of the state’s rental properties, and wait times for social housing ballooning to 10 years.

The report, by Homelessness NSW, which will be launched on Monday to coincide with the start of Homelessness Week, calls for a co-ordinated effort from government bodies, service providers, and not-for-profit organisations to ensure a long-term approach to reducing homelessness — ensuring it becomes a rare, brief, and non-recurring experience.

It says current efforts were more focused on short-term needs.

Tents of homeless people below freeway onramp south of downtown Seattle WA
An extreme shortage of social housing and the rising cost of rent has exacerbated NSW’s homelessness crisis, the report said. Picture: iStock

Collating data from service providers, policy makers, and advocates through more than 650 interviews, Homelessness NSW acting chief executive Amy Hains says post-pandemic rent rises have inflated rates of homelessness in the state.

Figures from the 2023 NSW Street Count found rough sleeping across the state had increased by 34 per cent year-on-year. The demand for homelessness services had also increased by 10 per cent in the past three months, putting increased pressure on the system.

“That’s (due to) spiralling rents low rental vacancy rates are rising cost of living, more people are being pushed into homelessness,” Ms Hains says.

“At the same time, the supply of social housing is historically low and shrinking, because there’s been a long term failure to invest in it.”

The need for urgent change was also highlighted by NSW’s rental crisis, with only one per cent of private rental properties available for low-income earners. For an individual this applies to people who earn less than $702 a week ($36,504 a year), or $1204 a week ($62,608 a year) for a single parent with one dependent child.

The state is also in the grips of an extreme shortage of social housing — as of June 2022, there were about 57,000 households on the waitlist, with the majority likely to wait more than 10 years for a home.

Critically, the report also says no NSW local government area (LGA) had reported a decrease in rates of domestic and family violence since June 2018.

Sydney, Australia - April 14, 2019: Reserve Bank of Australia at 65 Martin Place on black granite wall in Sydney Australia with a homeless man sleeps nearby
Rates of rough sleeping had increased by 34 per cent year-on-year, according to the 2023 NSW Street Count. Picture: iStock

Identifying key challenges in tackling rough sleeping, the report highlights the importance of addressing trauma in people experiencing homelessness, like implementing “trauma-informed” training for staff.

It said more focus was also need in acknowledging the systematic biases that may make someone more likely to experience homelessness, like racism, structural, and gender inequalities.

For example, Ms Hain said Indigenous people, and people with disabilities, were “significantly more likely” to experience homelessness in NSW.

“Everyone needs to be alert to the fact that you have a system or policy that says it treats everyone equally, but some groups get either less access to it or worse outcomes from it,” she said.

“It’s not just about raising awareness about those things, it’s also about centring people who are experiencing those things and giving them the ability to shape the solutions.”

NSW Homelessness Minister Rose Jackson, who will speak at the launch, said her focus will be to increase housing in the state.

“You can’t solve homelessness if you don’t have homes for people to live in and that is the work we will be prioritising,” she said.

“Building homes across our state for people who need them.”

Homelessness Minister Rose Jackson said creating more housing was a key way to address homelessness. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Gaye Gerard

Ms Jackson flagged some of the initiatives implemented by the government, including scrapping rental diaries, and extending the days people can access emergency accommodation.

However, she also acknowledged incidents of homelessness increasing.

Prior to July 1, people seeking temporary accommodation had to prove they had been rejected from private rentals through a rental diary in order to receive support.

“The stats tell us that homelessness is increasing, whether it’s couch surfing, sleeping in tents or street sleeping,” Ms Jackson said.

“The face of homelessness looks very different than it did even 10 to 15 years ago. We have a society where if you are a woman over the age of 55 are the fastest growing group experiencing homelessness.

“I am committed to doing something about it and I acknowledge that the community wants to see action, not more talk.”