Launched last month by the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv., the annual Bishops’ statement calls on Australians to look beyond the immediate challenges of the average household budget and to consider those who are homeless or facing housing stress because of skyrocketing rents and property prices.
It calls on the government to increase Centrelink payments such as Newstart Allowance and urges greater cooperation between all levels of government and the business and community sectors to increase social and community housing.
Census figures show the number of homeless Australians has increased from 102,439 in 2011 to more than 116,000 people in 2016.
Bishop Long said behind the people on the streets there were “those who were battling to keep the roof over their heads, wondering if they can make the next rent or mortgage payment”.
“Often these are people who are employed but whose income is barely enough – or not enough – to keep themselves and their families housed and fed,” he said.
“Housing is a human right, asserted by documents like the UN Declaration of Human Rights and by the teachings of our Church. Housing is an essential entitlement for all people to meet their basic needs, flourish in community and have their inherent human dignity affirmed and upheld by others.”
This human right and the call of the Church was reinforced by the words and example of Pope Francis, who has made it a priority to reach out to the disadvantaged and marginalised of Rome, including homeless people, Bishop Long said.
The statement points out that specialist homelessness services are struggling to meet demand for emergency accommodation and support.
While services assisted almost 290,000 people in 2017, they were unable to respond to more than 53,000 requests for help.
Over the previous five years, the number of requests for these services increased by 18 per cent while the number of people with an identified need who were not provided with support jumped by almost 70 per cent.
Other key facts in the statement include:
- It is estimated that 875,000 households experience housing stress – having to pay more than 30 per cent of their income on accommodation.
- There is a dramatic shortage of community and social housing with more than 270,000 extra affordable homes needed for low-income households.
- Almost 39,000 people are on community housing waiting lists and more than 150,000 people are on waiting lists for state-owned social housing.
- More than 40 per cent of people seeking crisis support (115,000 people) experience domestic violence. Nearly half are single parents and one fifth are aged nine years or under.
In the statement, the Bishops refer to the many organisations working to help people who experience marginalisation and homelessness. They also refer to the Australian Catholic Housing Alliance, a new initiative formed to find ways of diverting unused or under-used Church property towards affordable housing.
“Catholics can be proud of the work of diocesan social services…that reach out to people who are homeless,” the statement says.
“And let’s remember that putting your hand in your pocket and greeting the homeless person with a smile can be more than just an occasional act of charity. It is an essential encounter with a sister or brother in need that can reinforce our commitment to bringing about more far-reaching change needed in our society.”
The full statement and resources can befound at www.socialjustice.catholic.org.auJump to next article