Tue, Mar 21, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Rising house prices lock Australia’s homeless out

‘GRAND SLUM’:Sydney and Melbourne ranked second and 10th on a list of the world’s least affordable housing, and the use of homeless services has hit record highs

AFP, SYDNEY

Homeless 20-year-old Nina Wilson carries her dog in a makeshift shelter for the homeless in Sydney on Monday last week.

Photo: AFP

Homelessness is on the rise in Australia, experts said, with a growing number of people failing to benefit from the nation’s stellar economy as it readies to mark a record 26 years without a recession.

The unprecedented economic expansion — fueled by a massive mining investment boom — has boosted house prices and lined the pockets of many citizens.

However, it has also led to the country’s biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, being ranked second and 10th on a list of the world’s least affordable housing.

Soaring prices have placed further pressure on those already struggling to afford a roof over their heads, with a public outcry on housing affordability sparking action by federal and state governments to fund more social and inexpensive residential projects.

“Australia is a wealthy country and so it shouldn’t have the levels of homelessness that it does have,” Homelessness NSW (New South Wales) chief executive officer Katherine McKernan told reporters. “If you compare it to London and New York, the numbers of people seeking homelessness support are comparatively higher. We think that homelessness is increasing in Sydney and Melbourne due to the lack of affordable housing.”

The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare said demand for homelessness services reached a record high of 279,000 people in 2015 to last year, led by those affected by domestic and family violence, a 33 percent jump from 2011 to 2012, when the data was first collected.

More than 100,000 people were reported homeless in a 2011 national census, with welfare groups expecting a survey held last year to register an increase.

Rough sleepers are more visible in cities, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun describing a homeless camp outside a major train station during the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam in January as a “grand slum.”

In Sydney, Lanz Priestley has set up a “safe space” for the homeless, offering 24-hour access to free food just meters from the Reserve Bank of Australia, shiny office towers and NSW’s parliament.

“People have the basic human right to feel safe,” Priestley said. “I think the support services [in Sydney] aren’t even in the library when it comes to rough-sleeper safety.”

Among those resting on piles of bedding spread across colorful crates is 20-year-old Nina Wilson, who helps Priestley run the Martin Place site.

“I am now in transitional housing as I’m nearly six months pregnant and this is sort of my way of giving back because I know what it’s like to be homeless ... I can’t just watch these guys have nothing,” Wilson said.

Salvatore Magenta, 64, said he has been living on the streets since 2000 as he grapples with growing health problems.

“I slept in a car for about 15 years, I didn’t let no one know what I was doing with my life,” Magenta said. “I will need housing soon, or someone will find me dead on the streets.”

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