Down and out in Emerald: the sources and stories of homelessness
THE roots of homelessness are many and indiscriminate. We spoke with organisations working to curtail the problem and with two people it directly affects in Emerald.
Expenses tend to increase as Christmas approaches and many find their wallets thinned by the expectations of the holiday season.
Others find themselves in situations significantly worse.
Anglicare housing and homelessness manager Adam Klaproth works closely with the down and out.
He pointed to two broad causes of homelessness: the economy and mental illness.
In Emerald, the economic reasons had to do with the changing fortune of the mining industry.
“Emerald is reliant on the mining industry, so when that kicks back into gear, rental prices increase and homelessness becomes more of an issue,” Mr Klaproth said.
“We’re finding that industry starting to kick back in now, so rental prices are slowly but surely increasing.”
The psychological cases are fewer but more precipitous than a gradual rise in the cost of living. Many involve schizophrenia, a tendency to self-harm or suicide, especially among the young.
“For people presenting with mental health issues, it’s quite difficult for them, on top of medication, to sustain a tenancy,” Mr Klaproth said.
“It only takes one bad day and all of a sudden their tenancy’s at risk.”
In Anglicare’s community housing program, tenants pay rent equal to 25 per cent of their income. But low-income earners comprise most of the organisation’s cases, so in its affordable housing initiative tenants instead pay 25 per cent less than the market rental rate.
“I don’t think there’s a particular age group,” Mr Klaproth said about the Emerald demographic.
“Anybody on low income – youth and those on Newstart Allowance. People grow up in the area and for whatever reason can’t source work.”
He said homelessness had a different character in rural towns than in cities.
“There would still be people sleeping in parks but the community takes them in,” Mr Klaproth said.
“Usually it’s an unliveable situation but nothing long term and they seem to find a way to make do.”
Emerald Neighbourhood Centre director Jeanelle Horn reiterated the town’s economic dilemma.
“It changes due to the economic situation of the community,” she said.
“The economy’s improving but sadly people on low income have to try and cope with the high rental market.
“They either accept the increase in rent or they find alternative options. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of alternative options that meet their budget.”
Ms Horn added domestic violence to the common sources of the problem and said it affected all ages.
“Finding places for people to stay that are safe when they’re in a quandary of [domestic violence] is very challenging for us,” she said.
“We have families living in their vehicles. And because we don’t have the capacity to have a youth shelter, youth are couch surfing a lot.”
From the start of the year to September 30, the Department of Housing and Public Works provided 85 bond loans and 15 rental grants to help people into the private rental market and it assisted 55 individuals or families into social housing in the Central Highlands.
Good Samaritan goes from helper to homeless with four kids
IN JUST a few months, Jane (not her real name) went from assisting homeless people to living in crisis housing herself.
She had “a quite comfortable life” in Victoria but moved to Queensland after being diagnosed with an illness that now prevents her from working.
“I’d met some really nice people volunteering,” Jane said.
And soon she met someone who, after six weeks of apparent friendship, asked for a temporary place to stay.
But the man Jane agreed to help turned violent, strangling her, she said, to the point of causing haemorrhages in her eyes.
So in July, Jane escaped.
“We literally had a five-minute window when he went into the bathroom to leave,” she said. “I drove through the gate to get away.”
Jane was told by a domestic violence hotline she did not qualify for assistance since she was not in a sexual relationship with the man.
So with her four children, she slept in motels while her money lasted, and then on the side of the road in tents.
Jane’s car “by some miracle” broke down across the road from the Emerald Neighbourhood Centre.
With its help, Jane now lives in crisis housing run by Anglicare and is looking for something more permanent.
“I have children starting high school next year,” she said.
“It’s terribly disruptive for them.”
“We may have to move hundreds of kilometres to gain that housing. There’s just not enough places available.”
But Jane is still paying bills for the home she left behind.
“As a result of having to flee, I’ve been listed on TICA [a tenancy database] because I had to break the lease, which impacts my credit rating. hat stops you from renting privately again.”
“It’s like throwing your life up in a game of pick-up sticks: everything just falls and goes everywhere.
“I’m just hoping. Just praying and hoping and waiting.”
Mental health compounds struggle
EMMA (not her real name) came to Emerald with her boyfriend in May after being kicked out of home.
She visits the doctor once a week to treat her bipolar schizoaffective disorder.
“It’s like schizophrenia and bipolar became buddies and hugged each other,” she said.
“You have all the symptoms of schizophrenia but you also have the mood swings of bipolar.
“It’s really difficult to even function or talk to people or have a job.”
She stayed in temporary accommodation until local services took her in.
“The locals here are really lovely,” Emma said. “They really like to help you.
“We were basically surviving off the Neighbourhood Centre.”
Emma’s illness got in the way of maintaining steady work to support herself.
“I got a cleaning job but only could handle it for a week because I started hearing the voices,” she said.
“The type of depression that goes with the bipolar is painful. It’s so painful you don’t want to exist but you’ve got to.”
She now lives in emergency housing organised by Anglicare, but living expenses are high.
“Housing’s a bit expensive and it’s going up,” Emma said.
“Our landlord sent us an email saying our rent’s going up by $20 and, for me, that’s a lot of money.”
Her vision for the future was modest.
“I want to actually be a functional member of society,” she said. “It’d be nice to go out and have one drink at a pub, just to enjoy time with family.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Housing Service Centre: (07) 4988 1600
Homelessness Hotline: 1800 474 753
Emerald Neighbourhood Centre: (07) 4982 1696
Emerald Anglicare: (07) 4982 4062