The homeless are not nameless faceless nobodies, they’re babies, children, women and men all clamouring for a place to call home. A place where they can put down roots and establish a sense of belonging within their local communities. They’re not all the stereotype that is portrayed in media stories, they’re people who have been forced into hardship, debt and homelessness for a variety of reasons.
This is a sector I know well, a sector where I have had to break down the perceptions of social service providers and landlords alike. Where much of my work has been just as much about negotiating and challenging the stereotypical thinking and attitudes of the ‘helping’ professionals as it is about convincing landlords to give this or that person a shot, despite bad debt and tenancy history. In my experience discrimination is rife in the rental industry and letting agencies are a waste of time.
Transitional housing is not a fix, it is nothing more than a holding tank, where families get to live in accommodation for up to 12 weeks, paying 25 percent of their income on rent, while looking for other housing.
Transitional providers are contracted by government to support these families in that journey, a journey I liken to a conveyor belt of next, next and next. There’s no end in sight at this stage of the game and those transitional housing contracts look set to go on and on, presenting an ever expanding façade that someone, somewhere, is addressing the homelessness ‘problem’. At this stage we’re simply shifting the ‘problem’ around and transitional housing providers are actually removing rental houses from the market to provide a short-term fix.
Some providers may argue that they’re making progress, and that may be so, but progress in what? How can progress be made when there are more and more families lining up for a home? When you’re housing one family, another’s being made homeless somewhere else because they could not afford the rent, because the landlord increased the rent or simply decided they no longer want you in their house.
If transitional housing providers are removing properties from the market, one has to wonder what is happening to the families who would have otherwise been able to access those properties on a longer term basis. In some cases, I wonder if the competition created by providers is impacting on rental prices (I know of some cases of landlords hiking the rent when in negotiations with providers). I am also aware of instances where people viewing houses have ended up in ‘auction’ style negotiations with landlords using competition to pit desperate would be renters against one another.
Meanwhile, parents (generally mothers in my experience), their babies and children are left in a constant state of flux and worry about where they’re going to live next. A 12 week reprieve in a house is better than a motel (unless you’re one of the unlucky ones ending up in motel style transitional housing). The stressors of living in motel style accommodation is real and quite daunting for parents having to keep children quiet, where there’s nowhere safe to play, mum or dad cannot get a break and kitchen/laundry facilities make the living more difficult and more expensive for already cash strapped families. Not to mention the full-time job of keeping bored kids, in a cramped space, quiet out of fear they’ll upset someone and end up with nowhere to go.
While the main problem is homelessness due to an increasing population and decreasing rental housing supply, there is an assumption inherent in the whole transitional housing scheme. That assumption is that the people in need of housing also need ‘fixed’ in some way. If I had more time I could provide example after example of how the housing problem is being individualised so that the onus is on ‘fixing’ flawed homeless families and implies they are somehow to blame for the situation. I suppose if nothing else, this assumption provides extra funding to the providers and keeps a few more of them employed, while little is being done to address the more serious problem of poverty.