Homelessness set to surge post budget

The break up of Lisa’s marriage led to her facing homelessness. Photo: Michael Clayton-JonesCharities are gearing up for a surge in homelessness, particularly among youth, as a result of changes to unemployment benefits in the federal budget.

The head of St Vincent de Paul’s homeless services says they will be forced to stretch their limited resources to meet demand if the budget is passed with alterations to Newstart that mean under 30s have to wait six months before receiving financial support.

“Even students who have gone through study have to wait that period of time before they qualify for Newstart, so really what are their housing options post the study allowance?” VincentCare Victoria CEO John Blewonski said. “It’s very difficult to search for work when you don’t have a home address.”

In an effort to show how much the face of homelessness has changed from the mythical old man in a trench coat with a brown paper bag, the charity is hosting its fifth annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout on Thursday, where it will introduce some of the city’s more influential characters to a group of Victorians who have experienced homelessness.

One of the speakers, Lisa, 37, had the “white picket fence”, four children, pets and a partner, but a serious codeine addiction saw her relationship fall apart.

She moved out, but had financial problems and ultimately became homeless, living in shelters for seven months.

“The state of mind I was in, it was horrible,” she said. But she believes her situation is more common than people might think.

“Pretty much everybody I’ve met who has left a relationship, has by definition been homeless,” she said. “I don’t think people see it that way. I think people only see homelessness as a person living on the street.”

As well as raising money for their services, St Vincent’s uses the sleepout to get in executives’ ears about the issue of homelessness.

In his speech on Thursday, Mr Blewonski plans on highlighting the challenges that the state and federal budgets will pose to thousands of Australians who are currently facing tough times.

“There’d be no question how many in our community would be one or two pay cheques away from being homeless and that’s the sort of thing the CEOs hear on the night,” he said.

“You’ve got people who ran their own businesses, who were in comfortable stable relationships, the relationships break down and suddenly a young mum finds herself on her own with the main breadwinner gone, or somebody’s business goes broke and the next thing is they lose their house, they lose all their assets and they can find themselves homeless. We see that day after day.”

A person doesn’t have to be living on the street to be homeless; rather it is defined as someone without consistent, safe or appropriate tenure.

On the most recent census night in 2011, 22,000 Victorians were counted as homeless.

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