An investment or a right? Housing, homelessness, and single mother families

by | Aug 24, 2022 | 0 comments

How much is homelessness an issue for single mother families? According to all available data, it is a huge issue.

Statistics tell us that 60 per cent of all women escaping family violence become single mothers at least for a time and many experience years of poverty, leaving them at risk of insecure housing and homelessness.

In most States and Territories, women who break a lease in order to flee violence and leave no trace of their whereabouts for safety reasons, may be blacklisted by rental agencies for years.

In Victoria for example, a way to avoid this is to make an application to VCAT (which must be heard within three days), but often women don’t know this avenue exists, and expecting women who are experiencing trauma to navigate the process is just not realistic.

We hear these single mother stories daily

For over a decade, issues about housing and homelessness have been in the top three issues for single mothers calling our Support Line for help.

In our 2018 national survey of single mothers nearly 13 per cent told us they live in insecure accommodation including shelters, refuges or boarding houses, live with family or friends, or live in short-term private rental (with no lease or a lease that is for less than six months).

Nationally, the group most likely to be homeless today are women over 55 years. Too many of these women have struggled with poverty and housing issues for years as they raised their children and become homeless as their children age and their incomes diminish.

CSMC’s Single Mother Share House Register

Single mothers are also innovative and brave. For nearly all of our 53 years, CSMC has hosted a Single Mother Share House Register, first in a big book and now as a closed Facebook group. Here, single mums work out how to rent houses together or to share an existing rental, how to live together amicably and to raise children side by side.

It is not for everyone and it is often not easy, but for those who make it work there are many benefits. These include:

  • Children having a friend or sibling like relationship
  • Some shared childcare
  • Cost savings
  • Labour savings (such as shared cleaning, gardening, cooking etc.)

Often we see mums on the Share House Register step in to help another mum they have never met. A few years ago a young, pregnant and homeless woman was admitted to hospital and then discharged late at night when public transport was no longer running. She had no money or support but had recently joined the Register. She put up a post asking for help and one mum organised an Uber ride and another offered accommodation.

Have you successfully shared housing with another single mother? We would love to hear your story! Email us at members@csmc.org.au

Single Mother Stories

Our Support Line has been experiencing a glut of calls about housing issues recently.

Patricia has a baby and her rental house has just been sold. She has applied for over 100 houses with no success and has now been issued with a notice to vacate. She is feeling frantic and also dealing with a landlord who is harassing her. She is on the list for public housing.

Samir works in another service and rang us as his client has severe mental health issues and is living in a car. He said he has been trying to get in touch with housing organisations for three days with no luck. He told our worker he used to work in housing services and has never seen the housing sector in such a state of crisis.

Mara called because her current rental property has been sold, and she has three weeks to vacate with her 7-year-old child. She has applied for dozens of properties but finds her applications rejected despite having an excellent rental history. She currently pays $400 per week and is ahead on her rental payments. She has been seeking assistance from family violence and housing agencies, but with no luck to date.

Why there needs to be action now

Why are we raising these issues now? Its not just because it is homelessness week but because we are coming up to a State election in November and the annual housing affordability snapshot shows rental affordability has never been worse.

The Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot 2022 makes for grim reading: “Across Australia, only five rentals were affordable for a single person on JobSeeker out of more than 45,000 listings. Just one is affordable for a person on Youth Allowance. All are rooms in share houses. Couples out of work, single parents on Centrelink payments, and people on the Disability Support Pension all face a market where 0.1 percent of rentals are affordable.”

So, what can happen to fix the housing affordability crisis that is forcing too many people, including children, to be homeless?

A national plan would help, with a solid agreement between Federal, State and Territory governments to invest in building masses of social housing. By ‘masses’ we mean not just 4000 here or 5000 there. Currently there is a shortfall of 400,000 properties nation-wide that is predicted to rise to 700,000 by 2026.

Alongside a building plan, there needs to be agreements around renting that are more like European models with for example, longer tenure and affordability rental caps. Greater ‘wrap-around services’ are needed to support families and unaccompanied children (12-18 years) coming out of domestic violence, which include violence recovery, dental and health supports, and transition to independence for kids.

Critically, we need a shift in thinking. Property investment has overshadowed the concept of shelter and the right of every person to a home.

While we are calling on governments to act in all of this, it is also true, that single mothers have great knowledge and skills to share.  We need to keep talking with each other, sharing what resources we have including our stories and experiences. In September we will be forming an action group on housing to clarify our recommendations to current and future governments. Want to be part of this? Email members@csmc.org.au or keep watch on future newsletters

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