Life on the road amid wait for social housing

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Unable to find a place to stay in Newcastle, Troy Hurst packed up his car and headed for bushland near Nowra.

Accompanied by his wife, Pauline Thomas, and two dogs, Jackie and Bella, Mr Hurst said life was a constant struggle.

“We’ve used all of our money on fuel to get us here [to Nowra], so now we’ve got to worry about food for tonight,” he told Newcastle Weekly.

The couple are among almost 1,200 people on the social housing waitlist in the Newcastle region, with another 960 in Lake Macquarie, 619 in Maitland, 205 in Cessnock, and 135 in Port Stephens.

Family and Community Services (FACS) data from 2018 shows wait times in Newcastle are between five to 10 years for a two or three-bedroom property, while those in need of a four-bedroom property can expect to wait more than a decade.

Mr Hurst and Ms Thomas, who are on the disability pension, have spent the past six years living in their car, sleeping in a tent, and couch-surfing.

The stress of trying to find accommodation had taken a toll, with Mr Hurst suffering a heart attack and battling severe depression, while Ms Thomas was diagnosed with emphysema – a lung condition.

“We’re both really ill – if I didn’t have Pauline and my two dogs, many times I would’ve done something wrong,” Mr Hurst said.
“My dogs are so beautiful and friendly, they don’t leave my side.”

In 2016, the state government announced a 10-year plan to transform the social housing system.

Future Directions for Social Housing in NSW has a vision to reduce homelessness, provide more housing, and offer more support to help people divert from or successfully transition out of social housing.

It recognised that the system was originally developed in the 1940s to cater for working families with low incomes, but now needed to support a different demographic – the most vulnerable people in the community.

A Communities Plus program aims to deliver up to 23,000 new and replacement social housing dwellings, while the government has also pledged to halve homelessness by 2025.

Official figures as of 30 June 2018 show about 48,000 are on the social housing waitlist across NSW.

However, a report released this month by Hunter-based social and affordable housing provider Compass Housing Services claimed true demand may be up to 261% higher.

It used income and asset data from the last Census to suggest an additional 127,000 households were eligible for social housing who had not yet chosen to apply.

The report stated that, while the government’s Future Directions for Social Housing in NSW was the most ambitious of its kind, it still only proposed “enough dwellings to house less than half the current waiting list over a 10-year period”.

Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp said the numbers don’t lie.

“On an almost daily basis my office is contacted by people who are experiencing problems with secure housing, ranging from couch-surfers to those living in poor conditions, to people without a roof over their head at all,” he said.

“Everyone is entitled to the safety a home provides.

“Twelve-hundred people waiting for up to 10 years for this basis security is an absolute disgrace.”

Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.

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