No fixed address: who are the people homeless in Tasmania?


August 11, 2018 09:07:11

Hobart’s housing crisis has dominated headlines in recent months, but the human perspective is sometimes lost. During Homelessness Week the ABC spent time with people experiencing homelessness in its various forms; from those sleeping rough, to those desperately searching for an affordable rental in an “impossible” housing market.

While the 2016 Census showed 1,622 people experienced homelessness on any given night in Tasmania, the figure is believed to have worsened since then, with Hobart rental prices hitting a record-high this year.

According to Shelter Tas Executive Officer Pattie Chugg, homelessness is more common than people think, with only 8 per cent of the homeless population sleeping “rough”.

“We need to consider the other ‘invisible’ 92 per cent of people who are in insecure, temporary, overcrowded and unsafe places,” she said.

There is no “one-type” of homelessness.

This is what Tasmanians have to say:

Sleeping rough

Elmo Battaglene left home at 13 because, he said, it was an “unsafe environment”.

The 18-year-old says he has had three periods of homelessness in his life, the longest lasting 18 months.

At the moment he couch surfs with family and friends when he can, or if that fails — which he says is more often than not — he sleeps in a park or in the city.

“You get people try and mug you on the regular, creepy [people] come up to you on a daily basis. But nothing particularly scary,” he says.

“I am not happy like this. I am looking for work, but work is not easy to find when you have f*** all qualifications and you dropped out of school.”

As well as stable housing, Mr Battaglene says his goal is to get a job in computer programming. Affording a house on his own feels out of reach.

“The cheapest place you are going to find for a one bedroom that is not a shack in Bridgewater is going to be $200 a week.”

Mr Battaglene says people shouldn’t judge or blame the homeless for their situation.

“So many people say ‘you put yourself in that situation’. But sometimes it is unavoidable, and you really receive no help,” he says.

“Don’t judge people based on their appearance. A lot of people can’t afford clothes, houses. “

Jesse Bennett-Self, 22, has been couch surfing and sleeping rough on and off since he was 15.

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“Back when I was 15 and 16 there was a bank near the Hobart bus mall and the doors would be open 24/7, so I would end up sleeping in there,” he says.

“The Commonwealth Bank, a lot of us used to go there as well for the warmth and power points to charge our phones.”

A few months ago, Mr Bennett-Self was living with his uncle, but, like other times he had couch surfed, he wound up feeling like a burden on the people who had taken him in.

“When I was with my uncle I ended up in the psychiatric ward because a lot of stuff was just too much for me and I ended up extremely suicidal because I just felt like there was no hope,” he says.

Jesse was released from the psychiatric ward and offered short-term accommodation for 12 weeks.

He says he has now overstayed his welcome, and is doing everything he could to find housing because he dreaded couch surfing again.

“If people are doing it hard, don’t sit there and look down at people,” he says.

“I was in Wellington Court [in the Hobart CBD] the other day and someone who I have met through the streets was trying … trying to get a little sleep because he is always spending his time walking around trying to find somewhere warm, and these people were laughing at him.

“It was just disgusting the way they were looking at him and laughing.”

Supported accommodation

Waylon Brockie was 16 when he landed on his head and snapped his back in a 160 kilometre per hour car crash.

The injuries plague him to this day, making it extremely difficult to find work.

But it is not the lack of work that has landed him homeless, he says, it was the loss of his son.

Mr Brockie was his son’s primary carer when the child was removed from his custody about a year ago and placed in foster care.

With life spiralling out of control he turned to alcohol, and then lost his Housing Tasmania rental.

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“When I was homeless on the streets the alcohol became [something] to keep you warm at night and a time-filler. It numbs the pain,” he says.

He said there were no words to describe his lowest point, when he ended up on suicide watch.

“Everyone you walk past looks down at you because you are all scummy looking, you are dressed really bad and you smell because you are on the streets,” he says.

“They have no idea what has left you there. You have your pride going down the drain.

“And then at the back of your mind all you can worry about is what is happening with your child.”

Mr Brockie has been at Bethlehem House, a shelter for homeless men, for about two months.

He hasn’t touched alcohol in that time, has started weekly visits to his son and he now feels positive about the future.

While he imagined a future where his son will be back in his care, he sees their own private rental as out-of-reach.

“If you are a single male on Centrelink they will not take you. It can be quite disheartening,” he says.

Mr Brockie says homelessness can happen to anyone.

“When society walks past you and looks down upon you without even taking a second to think ‘I wonder what put him in that predicament?’ that is where blokes get to a point where they quit.

“And we become what society expects us to be.”

On the brink

Single mother Laura (not her real name) was forced to move out of her long-term rental with her two sons a couple of months ago because the landlord wanted to sell.

After exhausting all other possible long-term rental options, Laura and the two boys, aged eight and 10, moved into a short-term sublease in the same area, Blackmans Bay. They have two weeks left to find stable accommodation.

Laura spends everyday looking at houses but has not been able to find anything close to what they were paying before in the same area that meets her needs, including accessibility features needed due to a long-term injury.

“We are in desperate times,” she says.

“The last couple of months we’ve been riding this wave with the idea that something will come up but it’s really amazing how little there is that’s in a price point that is what I would consider reasonable.”

Laura says she is now considering moving as far as Launceston, but she said houses there had increased in price too.

“It’s looking impossible that in the next two weeks we are going to find something affordable and suitable here,” she says.

“I don’t do anything anymore. I don’t go to uni anymore, I was doing my master’s degree, and now all I do is look for a place to live.”

Laura says a buyer’s market and a boom in Airbnb properties were behind the unreasonable prices.

She says the reduced number of long-term rental properties has fuelled a power disparity that allows real estate agents and landlords to lift rents to levels beyond what would have been considered reasonable 12 months ago.

“If you look in Blackmans Bay, there were 450 Airbnbs, and a number [of those] are entire homes,” she says.

“[Homelessness] is no longer [affecting] just people with social issues or economic issues, this is a wide range of people,” she says.

“Secondary homelessness describes anybody who has unstable accommodation that they have no control over — we absolutely fit into that.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this and I lived in the States through the financial crash and prior to the financial crash when housing was extremely tight, and I have never experienced anything quite as drastic as the rapid increase in rental prices.”

Laura says people assumed that if you were homeless you had made poor choices.

“There’s no way to engage with [housing] services because I don’t need financial counselling, I don’t need drug and alcohol counselling and I don’t need parenting classes,” she says.

“What I need is a marketplace that actually offers reasonable housing to a local population.”

Finding a home

Joanne Robinson became homeless at 13 when she left home and fell into sex work and drug addiction.

“I was homeless on and off for 35 years,” she says.

“At 13 I had my first taste [of drugs] which was a speed ball, which is a mixture of heroin and cocaine — not a good thing to have first off.

“It made me feel comfortable and safe. At 13 when you are searching for something and you find that, bang — that was the end of it.

“I was couch surfing from 13 or I was sleeping on the street. To me that was what my life was, it was normal.”

She was homeless until about 2012 when she became one of the first tenants at social housing complex Common Ground.

It was based around a 50-50 mix of people who were previously homeless and low-wage affordable housing tenants who earned less than $45,000 a year.

For the first time in her life, she has a home.

“It is amazing, it is something that I really have never been able to say,” she says.

“This is my home.”

Ms Robinson says the Common Ground model should be replicated to help others in her situation.

She was worried about its future, with the latest government tender specifying that the Goulburn Street site was to be run as supported accommodation for vulnerable people who were most at risk of homelessness, abolishing the social mix.

She said breaking the cycle of homelessness was possible, though not easy.

“Having a roof over your head is the first step,” she says.






First posted

August 11, 2018 08:34:06

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