Launched three months ago, the Open Door program has already helped more than 100 people in the metropolitan area, including many families who have found themselves at risk of losing their home and becoming homeless.
In desperation they have sought help through the Vinnies Assistance hotline or have been identified as being at risk of homelessness by Vinnies conference members (volunteers working in their local communities). The program assists them with maintaining their existing housing by negotiating payment of their mortgage repayments or rent, or finding a more affordable rental option for them.
As Open Door operations manager Ortal Yifrach explained, rising interest rates and cost of living expenses have put undue pressure on a growing number of families.
“The numbers are shocking to be honest,” she told The Southern Cross.
“Families that two years ago would never have thought of contacting a homelessness service or any community service are now getting to the point they need homelessness services to support them.
“Some of these families have two incomes and they still can’t meet the cost of living or can’t find a place to rent because they are not available or too expensive.
“It’s a really concerning situation and a lot of people are reticent to seek support. They have been told, ‘work hard, save money, buy your house and you’ll be okay’ – and they’ve done everything right and they’re not okay.”
Ms Yifrach said through Open Door every effort was made to keep the families in their homes because there was such a shortage of available and affordable housing.
“So we’re supporting those that are in housing because we know once they are out of that, the options are very limited,” she said.
Open Door is funded through the State Government’s commitment to provide $6 million over the next four years to Vinnies, Hutt St Centre and Catherine House to help address homelessness in the city and assist vulnerable South Australians into secure housing.
In addition to assisting families, the program is helping to find long-term accommodation options for people who have been hospitalised and need somewhere to live, those staying at Vinnies’ two short-term crisis accommodation centres, and people being released from prison who have no ‘safe address’ to go to.
Ms Yifrach said one of the unique features of Open Door was that those seeking support would be assisted by the same liaison officer, rather than having to go to several services and deal with many different people.
For example, a prisoner being released would be assessed by the program’s liaison officer while in prison, they would meet them on their release, assist them with initial crisis accommodation and then into long-term or transitional accommodation.
However, one of the main barriers to finding suitable accommodation options is the lack of available and affordable housing in Adelaide.
This shortage is highlighted at the Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre, where in the past 12 months the average length of stay has doubled.
“It seems like a simple enough equation – there are not enough houses and we need more affordable houses,” Ms Yifrach said.
“People who have been working in the field for a long time could see it coming.
“But I know once they have got to us (Vinnies) they are in a better position than they were a few days ago. At the women’s crisis centre they are safe, they have a chance for rebuilding and growth…I know there are opportunities there, there is hope there.”