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8 August 2018

by Marilyn Kraner, Manager – Individual and Family Services

They call it the Great Australian Dream: a safe, secure place to call home. It’s a dream that many, if not all of us, share.

However, as the cost of housing continues to rise, home ownership becomes more out of reach for the average Australian and the issue of social housing has now hit the mainstream.

Insecure housing has historically been identified primarily as a welfare issue; a problem that was thought to affect mostly single men who were ‘down on their luck’, with street-based homelessness stereotyped as the result of substance use or severe mental illness. This is no longer the case. As our population continues to rise, the lack of affordable housing is having a direct and far-reaching impact on the average Victorian, including those in our own Jewish community.

Rapid growth in housing prices and the volatility of the private rental market, coupled with the need to live within proximity to community to enable religious connection and social or family supports, has led many in our community to experience financial distress. In fact, according to the Gen17 survey, 22.1% of Victorian respondents report that financially they are ‘just getting along’ or worse.

Many in our community are familiar with Jewish Care’s Housing Support program, which provides social and affordable housing, coupled with wraparound supports, to assist individuals and families out of homelessness. At present we house 88 households in our community.

What you might not know is that a significant proportion of those living in our social housing are children.

Contrary to popular belief, children are one of the largest groups affected by homelessness. Children under the age of 18 make up 27% of those without a stable home. This number rises further when we include those who are living temporarily with relatives or friends.

We all understand the need for a safe place to live – but for children, who are powerless to influence the adult world around them and reliant on others to keep them safe and protected, a stable and secure home is particularly vital. A home provides a site in which to restore, repair and prevent the harm that arises from homelessness; it helps to protect against the disruption that can occur when a family separates; and it enables children to remain part of their local community, connected to school and friends.

Most of all, a stable home provides the best conditions for children’s health and development; it is the safe place from which they grow and thrive.

At present, Jewish Care provides a safe and stable home for 43 children in our community. Be they a single parent household, a large family or anywhere in between, each child comes with their own unique story and experience.

emily

2 year old Emily* is the daughter of a single parent. After three tenancy breakdowns in private rentals, Emily and her mum were placed in a rooming house where there were no other children and where Emily’s safety was hard to monitor. They lived there until they reached out to Jewish Care for support. Rent was no longer affordable and the family had been asked to leave the rooming house, leaving them with nowhere to sleep. Emily and her mum were housed in one of Jewish Care’s 1-bedroom units, which enabled their family to remain intact. Had they not been able to secure housing, Emily risked being removed by Child Protection and placed into foster care. A safe and stable home allowed Jewish Care to add further protective supports like early education, child care and assistance with food, and gave Emily and her mum some much-needed space to settle and re-group.

Jacob

8 year old Jacob* came to Jewish Care with his parents after the family was evicted from their private rental due to arrears. Jacob’s mother lost her job after a long period of ill health, leaving the family reliant on the Newstart allowance – not nearly enough to make ends meet in the private rental market. Even if they had been able to secure additional funds, the family’s poor rental history would have made it very difficult for them to secure a property. Before coming to Jewish Care, Jacob and his family had spent 4 days sleeping in their car. The family were provided with a 2-bedroom transitional house to enable them to get back on their feet, and our Tenancy and Property Worker supported the family to re-establish a positive rental profile. Jacob was able to stay at his school and remain connected with his friends.

Chana

The parents of 1 year old Chana* and her 6 siblings found themselves unable to manage as a result of financial and employment issues. Their 14 year old was displaying a range of challenging behaviours which prevented him from attending school and placed his siblings at risk of harm. With involvement from Child Protection and impending eviction from their private rental, the family were facing homelessness. Seeking support from Jewish Care provided them with affordable transitional housing and a plan to find permanent affordable housing, as well as social work supports to assist the parents to manage their 14 year old’s behaviour and ensure the safety of all family members. The family are now settled and have remained connected to their Orthodox community. Living in a household that is safe and structured has allowed the children in particular to build new friendships and continue their schooling.

These are just a few of the stories of the children who live in Jewish Care’s housing, and we are privileged to share them. Children are sometimes forgotten in the stories we tell of who we support, but their voices are some of the most important.

Children become homeless through no fault of their own. They have little control over the events that have led to homelessness, and rely on adults to ensure there is a pathway out. It is up to all of us to build a world where no child has to live without a roof over their head – in the meantime, we are glad that Jewish Care’s housing can be that safe place for them to grow.

Insecure housing and homelessness have a detrimental and far-reaching impact on children’s wellbeing and development. Jewish Care believes the current lack of affordable housing should be considered an urgent public health issue. We urge you to get involved; write to the Minister for Housing and have your say. Together we can make a difference.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and need support, call Jewish Care’s Front Door on (03) 8517 5999 or [email protected]

*Names and images have been changed to protect the children’s privacy and identity.