Its 10:00 on a busy Saturday night in Melbourne, outside Flinders station is an old man, huddled in the cold, laying down on the hard floor in tattered clothes, covered in newspapers and surrounded by empty beer bottles. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well, this image is becoming a distant memory, because despite its prominence, it is not always the reality. When we look at the demographics of homeless people in Melbourne, and those sleeping rough on the streets, we see an increase in teens, single mothers, older women and even young children, who depict a very different picture of modern day homelessness. While it is an undoubtable fact that some are homeless due to drug and alcohol problems, there is an ever increasing number of Australians losing their homes due to the rising cost of living, and the lack of housing affordability in Australia. ABC news reported how homelessness has risen by 14% in the past 5 years, which correlates with the housing crisis and our State and territory governments’ failure to increase funding and investment in housing, which is down by 7%. For every 10,000 people in Australia, 50 are homeless, with 43500 of these homeless people being under the age of 25. Our government is failing the most vulnerable in our society. We are failing the most vulnerable in our society.
It is time, that we as Australians help our fellow compatriots, and no longer turn a blind eye and avoid this astronomical issue any longer. It is simply an undeniable fact that our government has to invest more in crisis accommodation and public housing. There is a reported 60,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, and nearly 25,000 children waiting for social housing in Victoria alone. Not only are these Australians waiting for housing, but some have been waiting for up to 10 years. In our nation’s capital alone, there is a reported 183 homeless children under the age of 12. Can you remember what you were doing as a child? Because I can assure you that it was not shivering in the cold, begging for a few silver coins and stressing about your next meal. These children sleep every night on the cold, cement steps of parliament house, right under the noses of the individuals that we, as a society have elected to supposedly solve our nation’s biggest issues. So, in the latest federal budget, how much money do you think was allocated to assisting our very own civilians living rough on the streets? A grand total of $0. But don’t worry, our government is spending our hard earned taxpayer money on far more important issues, such as $49 million towards building a replica captain cook ship, and an extra $4 million has been promised to aid Australia’s bid to host the women’s 2023 FIFA world cup. How can we, as Australians sleep at night, in our warm comfortable beds, with running water and a roof over our heads, while others are sleeping on the streets and we are doing literally nothing about it. Where are our priorities? Whatever happened to our morals and sense of compassion for one another? Homelessness touches society in many ways. Homelessness appears an insurmountable issue that is too large and difficult to address, so we as a society tend to turn a blind eye and look in the opposite direction. We, as Australians need to take a long, hard look at ourselves, and what our oblivious actions have created. A paradigm shift is a necessity in the way that we think, and respond to homelessness. We need to stop blaming the victims, and instead attempt to counteract the inequalities and social injustice that has resulted in human misery.
The main problem rests with housing affordability. Australia’s cost of living has reached record peaks, and as a result, homelessness due to unaffordable housing has climbed to 30%. The right to adequate shelter is recognised in the Universal declaration of human rights, but here in Australia, housing seems more like a privilege. In recent years, New York, Vancouver and even South Australia have faced similar issues to that of housing affordability that Victoria is facing today, and have managed to respond and reduce rates of homelessness, yet Victoria is falling behind once again. Sorry, I apologise, Victoria is not behind in everything… Melbourne reclaimed its title as the most liveable city in the year for the 7th year in a row. Most liveable city? Why don’t you go and ask the 200 people sleeping on the streets of the CBD, shivering in the cold and stomachs churning if they feel the same.
The solution is simple. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 vacant properties in Melbourne that have not been tenanted for years, which could be used to provide crisis accommodation. The Victorian government needs to start a vacancy tax on these empty properties. It is already happening in Britain, where there is a 50% tax for any property unoccupied for two or more years. The vacancy tax is simply a win situation, relying solely on the governments will, other than anything else. Either the revenue generated by the tax can go into funding more housing or even better homeless people will finally have access to stable and safe accommodation.
How can we, as a society, as one nation who prides itself on inclusiveness, multiculturalism, equality and equity, sleep at night, knowing that thousands of Australians have to battle against the elements every night, and there are hundreds of adequate shelters across the country, simply being unused.
Countless countries have employed a private building vacancy tax, so why can’t Victoria? Countries such as Canada, England, last year the Melbourne city council lead by the then Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle attempted to ban people sleeping on the streets and in doing so made the astounding implication that homelessness is a ‘lifestyle choice,’ further reinforcing the ignorance and misconception that justifies punishing homeless people for their homelessness, as if they have some control over it. Ladies and gentlemen homelessness is not a choice it is a situation that people are forced into because of the injustice in our society. We as a society are blaming the victim for their situation because we do not want to acknowledge that it is discrimination, exclusion and deprivation in its finest form.
At the next election we are going to have a voice. We are in a position of privilege. We are the Australians sleeping comfortably in our beds, with a roof over our heads and access to clean water and food. We have to stand up, and help out our fellow Australians sleeping rough on the streets. While homelessness may not touch us in a direct way, as individuals, we have a strong sense of social justice and need to do what’s right and better our society for the present, and future generations. We need to compel the government to make housing affordability a priority, increase the number of crisis accommodation and introduce a vacant building tax. We need to prioritise this issue, and treat homeless people with the dignity and realise that their circumstances are a direct result of the injustices that we in this room have never experienced.
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