Mary-Faeth Chenery

Locals  concerned about homeless have set up an organisation ‘Safe Place Homes Inc’ to explain who is eligible, how new affordable housing comes into being and to push for action. This article is one of series sponsored by Safe Place to explain homelessness and what we can do about it locally.

What does it mean to be homeless?

Most of us take having a home as a matter of fact. It is more that than just having a roof over our head. It is somewhere we belong, where we are safe, where we have the things that matter to us and where we live our most intimate and important moments. We structure our lives around having our own home.

What happens if we lose our home?  Homelessness is not only the images on  the SBS’ Filthy Rich and Homeless show or in the pleas for money from community agencies. It is also people who are couch surfing, people living in cars and caravans, people living in the bush, people in short term, insecure rentals and people who have to live with friends and relatives because they can’t afford their own home.

Homelessness, defines who you are how, how you live, whether you can get a job, how you raise kids and how other people see you.

Homelessness is not something anyone predicts for themselves, as one Filthy Rich and Homeless viewer said, “We are all a pandemic or any other illness away from homelessness.” It’s not only people with drug and alcohol problems, mental illness or those escaping family violence. Homelessness is socially determined. What we do as a community and a society determines whether or not people are homeless. Homelessness is a sign of a society’s failure: where we do not have the will to make sure everyone has a home.

What does homelessness mean for public policy?

Home ownership has been central to ‘the Australian dream’ for the whole of the post war period. Our public policy assumes everyone will aspire to own their own home. And yet home ownership is falling and homelessness is increasing.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) definition of homelessness defines three types of homelessness – primary (rough sleeping), secondary (temporary accommodation), and tertiary (inappropriate housing). Homelessness is not “rooflessness”.

A person is considered homeless if they are occupying a dwelling that is inadequate, has no or very short tenure, does not provide security, stability, privacy, safety, or the opportunity to utilise space for social relations. (This includes overcrowding). Having a home means having at least one room to sleep in, one room to live in, one’s own bathroom and kitchen and security of tenure.

Australian public policy has a raft of measures to promote home ownership and investment in housing. There is much less effort to address secure affordable housing through secure rental accommodation, public housing and social housing.

So what does this mean for Hepburn?

Hepburn Shire’s need for Social and Affordable Housing is above the average for Victoria and very little such housing is available in the Shire. The lack of this housing has negative consequences for individuals in need, for the livability of the community and for the needed attraction of lower paid workers in the service industry here.

The recent report by the Central Highlands Regional Partnership, Homelessness in the Central Highlands found that at the time of the most recent Census in 2016, the ABS identified 601 homeless persons in the Central Highlands Area (including those in transitional housing). In addition, 259 persons were marginally housed in either crowded dwellings, caravan parks or improvised dwellings.

Homelessness is a complex matter but not one that is impossible to solve locally. Having a home is a basic human right, and we need to learn more about it to make sure those in our community who want a home have one and have one that is adequate and affordable.


In the next article, Safe Place will address what affordable housing means in Victoria. The contact for Safe Place is David Hall, either via email on .