‘Paul’ waiting for Christmas dinner at UnitingCare’s BreezeWay Meals Program ‘Paul’ waiting for Christmas dinner at UnitingCare’s BreezeWay Meals Program Photo by Eugene Hyland, Ballarat Courier
  • 10 November 2016

Tackling homelessness in Ballarat

Local UnitingCare takes on crisis

Ballarat is suffering from an acute homelessness problem dramatically exacerbated by a lack of low-cost housing.

UnitingCare Ballarat, demonstrating leadership, collaboration and innovation, consulted with other providers in the area to find solutions to this persistent and socially corrosive problem.

As an example of what can be done, consultation led to a partnership with the Committee for Ballarat resulting in the Halving Homelessness Ballarat Think Tank held on18 August.

CEO (Interim) UnitingCare Ballarat Carolyn Barrie said the Think Tank was a great success.

"We had over 140 participants. The issue of homelessness is resonating with the people of Ballarat.

"The Think Tank created community leadership and fertile ground for ideas to deal with homelessness."

But the issue is a big one and not going away.

Long term drug user ‘Tanya’ speaking to UnitingCare Drug and Alcohol Manager Peter Cranage: “We need to put more money in rehabilitation than in jail.” Photo by Jeremy Bannister, Ballarat Courier

Ms Barrie said UnitingCare Ballarat provided assistance to over 2000 families, singles and couples, in the 2014-15 financial year, including nearly 600 accompanying children. It also provided 510 tenancies across a range of housing options.

"There is no crisis housing available for families," Ms Barrie said.

"Access to crisis housing is very difficult at the best of times. The community has been heavily impacted by the loss of manufacturing and other industry, as well as the global financial crisis. Underemployment is becoming a common theme.

Young people in particular often do not have the confidence or skills to secure private rental. They are often without references, funds, or even any experience of the kind of independent responsibility that is needed.

"At the same time there was an increase in the proportion of people in Ballarat receiving pension."

UnitingCare Australia is reporting increased demand for homelessness services and a critical shortage of safe, affordable housing, and is calling on the Federal Government to take leadership of a strategy to address the country’s homelessness crisis.

We are confident that if the Government commits to action now, the result will be a real reduction in the number of Australians without safe and affordable accommodation.

On any given night, more than 100,000 Australians are homeless. That’s one in 200 of us, and more than a quarter of these people are under the age of 18.

A recent survey in Sydney indicated that 20% of the homeless in that city spend their nights out in the open.

Some figures from a survey carried out among homeless people by Sydney’s Exodus Foundation (a UnitingCare service) and the Sydney Local Health District in 2016 show the profile of the homeless to be:

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Carolyn Barrie said UnitingCare Ballarat is the Housing Entry Point for the region and that priority is given to those escaping domestic violence and those who have no other options.

"At any one time there are 50-70 families or individuals waiting for a house in Ballarat.

"In the 2011 census, 520 people were homeless in the Ballarat region.

"We believe there are also 50-75 people who are sleeping rough every night, which means in a doorway or under a bridge or out in the open."

Housing stress – where more than 30% of household income is spent on rent or mortgage – is prevalent in the rental and home ownership markets. In Ballarat, 2011 Census figures suggest almost 4,500 households are experiencing housing stress.

“The issue of homelessness is resonating with the people of Ballarat.” UnitingCare Ballarat CEO Carolyn Barrie with Homelessness Think Tank Facilitator Kieran Murrihy from Foresight Lane. Photo by Lachlan Bence, Ballarat Courier

Ms Barrie said nearly a third of the people coming to UnitingCare Ballarat for housing assistance last financial year said they were under housing stress.

"These aren’t just young people that are in trouble. Again, according to Census figures, we estimate over 260 people over the age of 60 are experiencing housing stress. A recent report from Anglicare suggests only around 9% of available rentals in areas like Ballarat are affordable for a couple on the age pension; for a single person, that figures drops to 1.2%.

"On top of the fact there is no crisis housing for families. This is a situation the people of Ballarat find intolerable."

By and large, Australia is a lucky country. This is the result of hard work, self-sacrifice and forward planning carried out over generations.

Long-term planning and capital investment are now needed to ensure there is adequate affordable housing for low income Australians.

Ballarat’s Halving Homelessness Think Tank a great success.

It’s time to recognise that social housing is essential infrastructure for Australia, and an ideal investment for government and business, let alone a necessary investment in the future of our country.

UnitingCare Australia believes it is time for a national housing strategy to be led by the Australian Government in cooperation with state and territory governments, the community service sector and private business and industry.

Carolyn Barrie said it was important the community have a discussion with all stakeholders. "The city needs to develop an Affordable Housing Strategy to deal with the demand for housing for underprivileged groups."

Ballarat is growing faster than other regional areas. By 2026 more than 1,500 additional dwellings will be needed.

"A Housing Strategy should encourage a range of housing that meets existing and future needs, improve the housing mix and address the issue of affordability.

"Another issue we need to deal with is transition. There are long waiting lists for moving people into long term housing and getting into the private rental market is difficult for many of our clients. This difficulty is causing a real bottleneck in the availability of our transitional housing stock."

Housing stress – where more than 30% of household income is spent on rent or mortgage – is prevalent in the rental and home ownership markets.

Young people in particular often do not have the confidence or skills to secure private rental. They are often without references, funds, or even any experience of the kind of independent responsibility that is needed.

Ms Barrie believes a "Housing Ready" program would help, especially a program developed with other service providers such as Ballarat Community Health, employment and training agencies and in partnership with the real estate industry. This would provide assistance and pathways into housing. UnitingCare Ballarat also provides a range of other wrap around services including Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Treatment services.

“There is now a movement in the community to deal with homelessness and we need to maintain that energy.”


A national strategy needs to look at early intervention and responses to the full range of issues, from family breakdown and domestic violence, to mental health, drugs and alcohol, and loss of work, which can lead to any of us finding ourselves without a home.

Well planned and targeted policy settings for services, and where necessary, investment that delivers affordable housing, are essential elements of an economic strategy for jobs, growth and healthy communities.

Recent research shows that problems of housing affordability displaces many of the country’s most vulnerable into areas with fewer opportunities.

‘Tony’. One in 200 Australians are homeless. Photo by Jeremy Bannister, Ballarat Courier

The research found that: “The more economically vulnerable people in our communities tend to make more frequent, multiple moves – and each time they're living in slightly worse accommodation in less advantaged areas. Essentially, the poor move to poor areas where they become even more disadvantaged."

In other words, once the worse off in our community slide over the edge, it’s extraordinarily difficult to climb back up. The larger this problem becomes, the more it works as an anchor on the Australian economy, slowing down the whole economy.

Carolyn Barrie said in the short to medium term three things would make a significant difference to the homelessness situation in Ballarat.

"We need greater access to crisis accommodation.

"We need to improve access to short term transitional housing by having pathways that enable faster rehousing into longer term housing including private rental accommodation.

"We need incentives for investors to rent to the underprivileged."

Ms Barrie said consultation with local authorities and other providers would make a difference, but there had to be long term commitment to solving the problems that led to homelessness in the first place, and that could only come from the community as a whole working with government, providers and the private sector.

"This is only the beginning. There is now a movement in the community to deal with homelessness and we need to maintain that energy."

UnitingCare Australia will examine its response to housing and homelessness issues at a National Housing Forum in Sydney on 27 October

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