The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and champion for homeless women, has partnered with Small Steps 4 Hannah to launch an online information and service directory for Queensland women in need.
Speaking at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 14th Annual Forum for Women and Homelessness, held at QUT Gardens Point Campus, Small Steps 4 Hannah Founders Sue and Lloyd Clarke said the online Handy Guide will connect women with the support and services they need to escape domestic violence and find safety.
The murder of Sue and Lloyd’s daughter Hannah Clarke, and their grandchildren Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, shocked the world in February 2020 and has become a ‘line in the sand’ moment for domestic violence in Australia.
“If Hannah had something like the online Handy Guide, it would have been so helpful for her,” Sue Clarke told attendees at the Forum.
“She didn’t know where to go. She didn’t know where to look. She didn’t know what to do… if she’d have had access to a one-stop shop like this website, it would have been invaluable.”
The Lady Musgrave Trust, which helps Queensland women and their children get back on their feet and find safe and secure housing, has been producing physical copies of The Handy Guide since 2009.
In that time, it has become an indispensable service directory for at-risk women and their children, and an important resource for governments, hospitals and not-for-profit organisations.
The Trust received funding from theSmall Steps 4 Hannah Foundation and the Queensland Community Foundation, which contributed to the costs of developing an online version of the Handy Guide – making this essential resource even more readily available and accessible.
Louise Kelly, President of The Lady Musgrave Trust, said the online Handy Guide will provide help for women when they need it most.
“The online Handy Guide will provide knowledge, and therefore power, to women who may have thought they had lost their power and had nowhere to go,” Ms Kelly said. “And that will make women safer.”
Ms Kelly said The Lady Musgrave Trust will continue to print and distribute physical copies of the Handy Guide.
“It will continue to evolve alongside the online version,” she said. “Regardless of if you’re using the online version or the hard copy, we want this to be an accessible platform for women to be connected to the services they need.”
Held to coincide with Homelessness Week (1-7 August), The Lady Musgrave Trust’s Annual Forum for Women and Homelessness brings together representatives from the Queensland Government and organisations across the homelessness sector to collaborate on making Queensland the country’s safest state for women.
The theme of this year’s event, held in person and viewable live online, was ‘The pathway to homelessness for women in Queensland – a story of coercive control, violence and systemic disadvantage’.
“We weren’t aware of coercive control,” Sue Clarke said. “We saw the consequences, we saw the damage it did, but we didn’t know it had a name. We wanted to help start the conversation, and help everyone to understand what coercive control was.”
At any one time there are more than 10,000 women in Queensland who are experiencing homelessness, a number that is believed to be underreported.
Domestic and family violence is the primary reason women and children seek specialist homelessness services, which is why The Lady Musgrave Trust remains active after 137 years in helping find women and their children a home to shelter and live their lives in security and safety.
“On the one hand, it’s wonderful that The Lady Musgrave Trust is 137 years old and still going strong,” The Lady Musgrave Trust CEO Victoria Parker told attendees at today’s forum.
“On the other hand, it’s a tragedy that The Trust is still necessary.”
The online Handy Guide, created by The Lady Musgrave Trust with support from Small Steps 4 Hannah and Queensland Community Foundation, can be viewed now at thehandyguide.com.au
The Lady Musgrave Trust 2021 Annual Forum was proudly brought to you by our sponsors Queensland Government, North Harbour, Watson & Associates, Keystone Private, Lovewell Cafe, Lucid Media and The Content Division.
We’ve just wrapped up our 13th Annual Forum on Women and Homelessness and it was a huge success! After our original plans to host this year’s Forum during Homelessness Week were postponed due to lockdown, we decided to take the whole Forum online for the second year in a row.
This year’s theme was “Seize the Momentum”, which focused on building and maintaining the momentum over the past 18 months for women’s voices to be heard and for expedited solutions to end homelessness.
Hosting the Forum once again was the brilliant Leigh Muirhead, alongside our CEO Karen Lyon Reid and an impressive lineup of speakers from many organisations in the homelessness sector, who all pivoted to bring us their presentations online.
For the hundreds of registrants who signed up to watch the Forum live online, we hope you enjoyed the sessions and found the content valuable (let us know here).
If you missed it, below is a summary of the speaker’s presentations and findings. You can click on the links at the end of each paragraph to watch individual segments, or view the entire Forum recording in full below.
A special welcome
We kicked off the Annual Forum with an opening message from The Honourable Leeanne Enoch MP, Minister for Communities & Housing, who outlined the Action Plan from the Palaszczuk Government to boost housing supply and improve coordination in the delivery of services.
“Far too many Queensland women and their children are at risk of homelessness, and we need new solutions to alleviate this need, especially with the new challenges of COVID-19.
“With an increasing number of older women at an increased risk of homeless, the Palaszczuk Government is committed to ensuring all women, regardless of age, can access housing assistance if they need it.”
Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust, provided an update on The Handy Guide for Homeless Women, which is our directory of information and services for women in need. These guides are distributed daily by sector workers and volunteers and will soon be digitalised, making it even easier for people to access this information.
Our first speaker was Aimee McVeigh, CEO of QCOSS (Queensland Council of Social Service), who spoke about the scale of the housing crisis in Queensland, the response to homelessness as a direct result of COVID-19, rental reforms and what the outcomes for women look like, and how economic downturns present opportunities for stimulus in a way that creates social benefits for generations to come.
“Queensland is absolutely in the thick of a housing crisis. We have over 50,000 people on our housing register. If those people came together and formed a town, it would be the fifth biggest town in Queensland.”
Crucially, Aimee shared a number of indicators that we have reasons to be optimistic and that it is possible to address housing and homelessness issues for women in Queensland, Australia and around the world.
The road home: creating a community for connection, inclusion and welcome for new arrivals in Queensland
Our next speaker was Christine Castley from Multicultural Australia, a non-for-profit that provides support to the thousands of refugees settling into Queensland every year. Christine spoke about the significant journey these people face and the accommodation and settlement support that is provided to them on arrival.
“Homelessness is a significant issue for any person who experiences it, but for refugees and migrants in particular, there is often a significance of secure housing.”
Christine spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on refugees, students and migrants, and shared three case studies of instances where Multicultural Australia have stepped in to assist refugee families.
“To have a safe and stable place of their own represents much more to a refugee than to someone who has never known such a loss of home, community and country.”
Next we heard from Anne-Marie Robert from the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation who spoke about Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy (NHS) – a ten year, $70+ billion plan to reduce homelessness for Canadians in need.
Under the NHS, public, private and not-profit sectors will come together with the aim to create affordable, stable and livable communities through a mixture of loan and grant funding. The goal is to ensure Canadians across the country have access to housing that meets their needs and is affordable.
One of the priority projects highlights the link between women with experiences of violence, housing instability and homelessness, and the disparity between how these services actually operate, often resulting in turnaways.
“There is a well-evidenced link between experiences of violence, housing instability and homelessness for women – but the homelessness-serving sector and domestic violence sector often operate separately. How can we better support cross-sectoral responses to housing needs for women, including women who have experienced or are at risk of violence?”
The first Canadian community to eradicate chronic homelessness
Next, Dr. Alina Turner from HelpSeeker spoke about the impact technology has on housing and homelessness, and introduced the Medicine Hat project, which became the first city in Canada to end chronic homelessness.
Medicine Hat, a city in Alberta, is big enough to have a homelessness challenge, but small enough that they could experiment with innovative solutions.
“Medicine Hat has been a beacon of hope for Canada, it has shown us that [ending homelessness] can be done, but it’s an ongoing project. It’s not an “ending homelessness and we’re done”.
The phases of work included creating the space to innovate, formalising a systems approach and having a vision beyond an end to homelessness.
“When we started this we didn’t know what exactly we were getting into. We started with housing first, then came systems planning. We can house people, but if all those underlying root causes and challenges aren’t disrupted, then we’re really just spinning wheels. We also looked at people and performance indicators, service quality standards and a rights-based approach to housing. We took a data-driven approach, but we also looked beyond homelessness to address homelessness.”
We were then joined in the studio by The Lady Musgrave Trust Director, Jenny Clark, who had a great discussion with Rachel Watson about housing scalability and solutions, such as the Housing Action Lab.
Rachel spoke about how to scale housing solutions to create change, asking the question “What transformative actions can we take together today to deliver the housing solutions of tomorrow?”
The Housing Action Lab applies the elements of scaling, but most importantly demonstrates the process of “spreading impact”.
“Moving the language from replication or pilots to scaling is a really important one. We need to think about [solutions] as a scaling initiative, not a “cut and paste”.
Rachel and Jenny also discussed the impact of increasing housing costs in combination with the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. What is going to be the impact of affordable housing?
“The 2032 Olympics are such an opportunity, but also a threat by way of further increasing property prices and excluding people on lower incomes from many areas that get caught up in Olympics-driven demand. It often ends up serving people on higher incomes, both in terms of increased property values as well as increasing the threshold of entry into certain local housing markets.“
Our next speaker was Susan Davies, who shared a new Queensland housing initiative called Sharing With Friends. Started by a group of Zonta members, Sharing with Friends is a co-housing model of affordable home ownership to women retiring on meager superannuation.
“Having a house, a secure place to live, where you can keep contributing to community life, you can still be connected socially, you’re not alone, I think it’s a wonderful concept and really part of my commitment to the community, which I’ve been working to build all my professional life.” – Sharing With Friends resident
Our next speaker was Emma Telfer, the Director of Culture & Strategy at Assemble, a private property development group with a real focus on affordable and social housing.
Emma shared the Assemble future housing model, which is an alternative pathway to home ownership in Australia. This includes a “Build to rent to own” model, which gives residents a 5-year lease with the option to purchase upon conclusion. Residents range from first homebuyers to older single women looking to secure their financial future.
“This is an alternative pathway into home ownership for people who have been locked out for whatever reason, whether that is rising house prices or their inability to get into a position to save the extraordinary amount of money you need for a home deposit. Residents have a fixed arrangement, so they know exactly what they are working towards and are supported through a number of programs like financial coaching, bulk buying and community engagement.”
Sheree Taylor, the current President, and Radmila Desic, past president, discussed the employment opportunities for women in construction and trade.
“There are two factors that become a challenge and barrier for women. One is the employers themselves – the industry has not been as quick and ready to take on women, particularly around non-traditional trades. The other area is as primary caregivers – the flexibility of this industry is somewhat difficult if you’ve got young children. NAWIC is creating strategies and working with the state government to make significant changes to improve these two factors.”
Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. Most of us look forward to the holiday season in anticipation of laughter and fun, spending quality time with family and friends. It is especially true in 2020, with COVID impacting the precious time spent with loved ones.
But unfortunately for many Queensland women and their children, Christmas is not a time of joy. It is a tragic time marked by fear and intimidation with increases in domestic and family violence (DFV).
“Christmas tends to be a time of more. More family visits, more food shopping, more present buying, more alcohol consumed, more spending. This season of more can exacerbate families under strain. This can lead to domestic violence in the household.”
Domestic violence describes a person being subjected to an ongoing pattern of abusive behaviour by an intimate partner or family member. This behaviour is motivated by a desire to dominate, control or oppress the other person and to cause fear. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, financial and sexual abuse.
Helen says DFV can be experienced by anyone in a domestic or family relationship, from any age group, financial bracket, gender partnership and any cultural group, but “some people are sadly more at risk. Most people accept that DFV is gendered violence – meaning that 70% of domestic violence is experienced by women.”
Tragically, it is younger women who are most at risk. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 13% of women aged 18–24 experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence in the past 12 months, compared with 8% of women aged 35–44 and 2% of women aged 55 years and over.
According to ANROWS, 61% of women had children in their care when the violence occurred. Yasmin Dulley, Principal at Byron Family Law, says that courts and family law solicitors generally see an increase in client reports of domestic violence around the Christmas period “as well as applications made in both State (domestic violence) and Federal Courts (parenting matters).”
“This is due to a number of factors, including tension around any terms of agreement relating to parenting matters and the practical implementation of those agreements. Conflict often arises around changeover times and locations, as well as agreement on who will have the care of the child over Christmas,” Yasmin explains.
“Our role as solicitors is to ensure that parents or carers have certainty and clarity around any agreed terms or the terms of a court order, so as to reduce additional stress and conflict.”
One of the highest social risk factors of domestic violence is housing.
“Housing is a critical issue for all people who have experienced DFV, and is a major contributor to women and children’s homelessness,” says Helen. “This is why the community needs to support crisis care, including safe housing, counselling and other associated needs (like personal feminine care items, bags, etc).”
The Lady Musgrave Trust produces the Handy Guide for Homeless Women each year, a booklet that provides support services for women who are without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless.
The Family and Federal Circuit Courts have recently introduced an innovative pilot called The Lighthouse Project which Yasmin says is designed to assist families most at risk of experiencing family violence, to navigate the family law system.
“The Lighthouse Project aims to improve the safety of children and families within family law proceedings through early risk screening, early identification and management of safety concerns, assessment and triage by a specialist team and referral of high-risk cases to a dedicated court list,” explains Yasmin.
Helen says this is a social problem that everyone is responsible for ending. “A key sign of domestic violence is increased isolation of the woman removing herself from established support networks (e.g. work friends, family, neighbours) so she can’t escape the fear and intimidation.
“COVID restrictions have increased concern for women’s safety for a lot of services. There are stories of women being in awful socially isolated situations. For example, one woman’s only access to support was having a community worker in the car with her when she had a scheduled driving lesson, as this was the only time her partner let her out of his sight.
“Don’t be afraid to ask if your friend is OK. But make sure you do it safely,” she says. This includes not asking how they are going in front of the person that could be abusing them. “Choose your timing well for her. This often includes the children’s safety – be mindful of their situation, too.”
Helen adds, “There is often a lot of shame felt by women living in domestic violence. The best thing you can do is show compassion and not judge your friend. We want them to know we are here for them and willing to help.”
This Christmas, keep your eyes and ears open to what may be happening behind closed doors near you. It takes a village to stop domestic violence and women’s homelessness before it happens.
If you or someone you know are experiencing domestic and family violence, there are many services available in Queensland that can help:
If it is an emergency, contact Queensland Police Service (000) for immediate response. QPS have an automatic referral to a counsellor who will support women and advise them of the support services available.
DV Connect (1800 811 811) is an organisation that provides crisis support and counselling, as well as a women’s refuge service assisting women and children affected by a domestic violence incident to obtain placement into crisis care.
1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) is a telephone helpline for friends and family to report if someone they know is experiencing domestic violence.
Relationships Australia QLD (1300 364 277) is an organisation that provides relationship support and advice to individuals and families across Queensland.
Mensline (1800 041 612) is a national telephone and online support, information and referral service for men.
Immigrant Women’s Support Service (07 3846 3490) offers support to immigrant and refugee women from non-English speaking backgrounds and their children who have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence.
Women’s Legal Service (1800 957 957) and Legal Aid QLD (1300 65 11 88) provides free legal advice and legal support services to victims of domestic violence, including in relation to applications for a domestic violence order, children’s Court matters and Family Law matters generally.
Queensland’s oldest charity has turned its attention to focus on supporting the growing number of older women who are facing housing uncertainty.
Senior women facing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic have benefitted from increased payments via JobSeeker and increased availability in the private rental sector, but The Lady Musgrave Trust’s chief executive officer Karen Lyon Reid said there was still very much an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear.
“The increase in housing availability and payments while positive are only providing temporary relief,” she said.
The Lady Musgrave Trust, established in 1885, is Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women.
Last year, the Trust surveyed more than 100 women experiencing or concerned about homelessness after the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced older women’s homelessness had increased by 31 per cent between the past two census periods.
“Women 55 or over represent the fastest growing demographic in the homeless population,” Karen said.
“The rate of growth in this demographic is a new and alarming phenomenon.”
The Trust provides life-saving services to vulnerable women and their children when they are facing critical homeless situations.
Women like Elly, who at 76 has struggled to find affordable and suitable housing since the break-up of her 43-year marriage.
Elly’s journey as a homeless senior woman started 10 years ago when she returned home from two years of working in Asia as an English teacher to find her husband had sold her car to fund his drinking and gambling addictions.
Their family home was also about to be repossessed.
“I just packed up and left. I was distraught,” she said.
With limited savings and unable to find work because she was “too old” and “overqualified”, the mum-of-two got housesitting jobs and started studying for a second university degree. Eventually, sick of living out of suitcases, Elly rented a unit but the rent kept increasing at a rate that her pension didn’t.
In March this year Elly was approved for public housing east of Brisbane but she said the living situation was still not ideal.
“I feel like I’m being punished for being a woman and for being alive this late in life,” she said.
“There’s just no decent standard of living for older women.
“I have many friends who find normal housing unaffordable. It is not just my story – it is the stories of many women.
“Women with no personal support network don’t know who to turn to and where to get help.”
With the aim to provide older women with practical and relevant information on how to resolve their unique circumstances, the Trust have developed the Handy Guide for Older Women to be launched on August 5.
Since 2011, together with its partners, the Trust has developed and distributed the widely adopted Handy Guide for Homeless Women products.
This year, the guide has been developed specifically for older women who are facing homelessness or are anxious about their future housing.
Karen said the guide looks at the whole woman, not just their housing needs, and includes planning tools and a directory of services from health and wellbeing, training and employment.
“While it is for older women, it is also helpful for friends, family members and workers in services that connect with older women,” she said.
“The intent of the Handy Guide for Older Women is to educate women and encourage planning before a crisis emerges.”
The Trust will be congratulated at the launch on their work in developing the Guide by Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson, State Minister for Housing and Public Works Mick de Brenni and Assistant Federal Minister for Community Housing, Homelessness and Community Services Luke Howarth.
Over the next 12 months, the Guide will be put into the hands of tens of thousands of women over the age of 55.
For those sleeping rough, lockdown has made life more difficult than ever before. Businesses are closed. Public bathrooms are shut. Shelters are overflowing, with food donations and volunteer workers decreasing daily as people prioritise their own safety over helping others. Staying home, washing our hands and even social distancing are virus prevention measures we have taken for granted.
One organisation striving to combat this struggle is The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women. “Due to the pandemic, women don’t have as many choices,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.
After being told to ‘stay home’ for countless weeks, naturally, people are feeling cooped up. But for those who live in dangerous homes, this trapped feeling is a genuine, pressing threat. The UN Population Fund has projected that the global lockdown will result in 15 million more cases of domestic violence worldwide.
“They feel as if they have to stay in their current situation because they aren’t allowed to move due to restrictions. It’s hard for these women to research about where to go when you aren’t allowed to leave your house,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“The intensity of these situations is beginning to ease with the easing of lockdown restrictions, but in the height of national lockdown, this issue was extremely problematic for women in those situations.”
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 42 percent of the clients of specialist homelessness services have experienced family and domestic violence, with this number expected to increase resultant of the number of reported cases.
For victims of domestic violence, many are forced to stay isolated with their abuser, causing an influx in reported cases and an increase in women seeking refuge and shelter. Unfortunately, it also means many survivors are deciding to return to their abuser, for fears that resource access is limited amid COVID-19.
“It’s more difficult for these women to live with their abusers, as people are in closer proximity with their partners and are drinking more,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“The issue is being compounded and there’s less opportunities for these women to seek help or find places to stay – even hotels haven’t been open, so difficulty arises finding shelter and safety.”
The unemployment rate in Australia is estimated to increase to over 10 percent as a result of the pandemic. With such an increase in job loss nationwide, the potential for homelessness will be greater in many situations. Challenges for those already homeless have become more extreme, as they are exposed to more health risks, receive less help from volunteer organisations, and experience more difficulty seeking employment.
People who are homeless are more likely to contract respiratory diseases or have chronic health conditions that cause them to be susceptible to the virus. For these people who are among society’s most vulnerable, following the basic steps of virus prevention proves to be near impossible.
Properties such as those owned by The Lady Musgrave Trust help to aid people in escaping the dangers that come with sleeping rough during a global pandemic, but the resources owned by these charities aren’t capable of fully supporting the influx of people in need of their assistance while the funding remains the same as it was pre-pandemic.
“We provide accommodation to young women, so more funding to provide accommodation would allow us to assist more women,” says Ms Lyon Reid.
“As well as accommodation, we also produce our Handy Guide for Homeless Women in Brisbane. We print 16,000 physical copies of these each year, and we have already distributed all of these. More funding would mean we could have printed more of those, assisting more women in need.”
Women are most at risk of homelessness. Homeless people are the most at risk of contracting COVID-19. These intersecting vulnerabilities mean that now more than ever, people need to look past their privilege and help those who need it.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians are being told to stay home and stay safe. But what if you don’t have a home – or your home isn’t safe?
While it’s natural to be frustrated by the measures that have been introduced to combat COVID-19, it’s also important to acknowledge that the ability to self-isolate and maintain social distancing in a safe home environment is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.
For those sleeping rough, staying home isn’t an option. And for those living with a perpetrator of domestic violence, staying home is just as dangerous a prospect as going out.
Roughly 20,000 Queenslanders experience homelessness at any one time. Without safe and secure accommodation, they are particularly vulnerable to the virus, especially if they are already living with a chronic health condition. And with the coronavirus crisis causing a surge in unemployment, housing advocates are seeing an increase in the number of people sleeping rough.
The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity and a champion for homeless women, is among those organisations experiencing an increase in demand for their services.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in calls from women seeking help,” says Karen Lyon Reid, CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust.
“We provide at-risk and disadvantaged women and their children with accommodation in safe and furnished units throughout Brisbane and Ipswich, but those units are all full at the moment. We’re connecting women with other services, but we’re hearing reports that they’re having trouble finding accommodation elsewhere.”
Of particular concern for The Lady Musgrave Trust are the women who find themselves faced with the ‘choice’ of staying at home with an abusive partner or leaving their home and attempting to find accommodation in the midst of a pandemic.
“Women who may already have been at risk of domestic violence are now finding themselves trapped in circumstances that exacerbate the problem,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “People are staying at home, they’re cut off from their social networks, and in many cases they’re feeling financial pressure. People are under a lot of stress, and unfortunately, we know that stress often leads to violence.
“Obviously, COVID-19 makes it much harder for these women to simply walk out of their homes and into other premises. Their options are very limited.”
Ms Lyon Reid welcomes recent moves by the Federal and State Government to address the issue, including a $5.5 million boost from the Queensland Government for domestic violence services, and a push to house at-risk women and their children in hotels and residential properties to free up capacity in shelters. But, she says, charities like The Lady Musgrave Trust are still in urgent need of support from donors.
“Our issue is fundraising,” Ms Lyon Reid says. “The reality is that, between the bushfires earlier in the year and now the coronavirus, there’s only so much money to go around, and donations to The Trust have slowed.
“We’re asking our supporters to continue to contribute to our cause financially, because their donations enable us to continue to do our work.”
Among the priorities for The Trust is a new print run of the popular Handy Guide for Homeless Women, a document designed to provide women without shelter or at risk of becoming homeless with the information they need to improve their situation, including where they can access accommodation, health services, legal assistance and employment.
“We printed 14,000 copies of the Handy Guide for Homeless Women last August, and they’re all gone already,” Ms Lyon Reid says.
“We are urgently seeking funding for an additional print run of the Handy Guide, because it’s a real tool that empowers people to improve their circumstances. Nurses hand them out in hospitals; they get distributed to employment centres; and with so many people in dire straits and scared for their future, the Handy Guide will be an essential resource for them.”
A wide range of speakers discussed why there is no ‘quick fix’ for women facing homelessness at The Lady Musgrave Trust’s 11th Annual Women and Homelessness Forum.
The theme of this year’s Forum was ‘Building Resilience – Surviving and Thriving’. As the speakers shared their reflections on the topic with the sold-out crowd at the Queensland Multicultural Centre, it quickly became clear that ‘surviving and thriving’ will mean something different for every individual woman facing the threat of homelessness.
The Member for Redlands, Kim Richards MP — appearing at the event on behalf of the Hon Mick de Brenni, Queensland Minister for the Department of Housing and Public Works — noted that “every situation is different, every circumstance is different”, and that homelessness can happen to virtually any woman at any time.
“I’ve seen it in my own family,” she said.
“My sister lives up in Cairns. She moved up there because that’s where her husband worked at the time. It was a very happy marriage, or what she thought was a very happy marriage, for 10 years. She was a stay-at-home mum, she had given up her career for his career. All of a sudden it was over.
“She didn’t have the skills she needed to get back into the workforce. She didn’t have the means to be economically independent. Finding a house up in Cairns… it was complex, and it was difficult, and without family support at the time, it would have been [even more] difficult.
“My sister was one of the lucky ones because she had a family that could help her. A lot of people don’t have that. They don’t have access to a family that can support them in that way to get back into their home, and to get back on to the pathway that helps them take their future forward.”
Financial counsellor Mark Bates explained that when people were going through a financial crisis, “it’s often because of something that’s beyond their control”.
“It might be a job loss or something like that. It can be quite scary, because I often find with the clients I’ve worked with that very small things can land people in a very, very difficult space.
“I had a gentleman come to see me who’d run his own multi-million dollar international business. The business had failed, he had started drinking and his wife had left him. He was not able to open his own mail anymore. He needed someone to be there to open his bills with him. What that tells us is that things can change very dramatically, even when we think we’re in a fantastic position, so you should always show respect and humility.”
Dr Ruth Knight, a Senior Research Fellow at QUT’s Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies, said organisations needed to innovate to be able to meet the varying needs of people at risk.
“There are a myriad of issues we need to address,” she said.
“We can’t just give people a house and expect to solve homelessness. We can’t just provide mental health services and expect to solve mental illness. We have to take a ‘systems view’ to our community; we have to look at the ways that we can be innovative within our organisations; we have to get much better at evaluating and reporting our impact; and we need to create better partnerships with the funders of our services — not just government, but social investors and philanthropists.
“All of that is critical to whether we’re going to get better or we’re going to get worse. We’re all in this. We’re all responsible, not just government.”
Kim Richards emphasised the need for a “more personalised and tailored approach” to dealing with homelessness.
“From a government point of view, resilience is about having the right programs, but it’s also about having the right people,” she said.
“I know we can’t do it on our own. I don’t think any one entity can do it on their own. It’s about walking the journey together, and that is critical to breaking the cycle of homelessness.”
A little knowledge can go a long way. It can even be the difference between the safety of home and the dangers of homelessness.
Of course, there are any number of reasons that someone can become homeless. But according to Lynne Hughes, a financial counsellor with The Salvation Army’s Moneycare service, many people underestimate the importance of getting help early.
Financial shocks like losing your job, getting sick or injured, or leaving a relationship requires an urgent reassessment of the budget. Some people use credit to try and get them through the difficult times when a longer term strategy would be more helpful. Some also don’t call the real estate agent or their mortgage provider early enough.
“A lot of our clients are vulnerable. They’re on a low fixed incomes and don’t have the wiggle room to participate in the high cost financial products like payday loans, consumer leases and Afterpays that are readily available to this group, or the new pay as you go products like Uber Eats or Uber taxis.
People can be easily sucked into using these products without really understanding the risks to their budget. Repayments are usually set up via direct debit to their bank account or Centrepay and before you know it there is little money left for rent, food or medical costs. Afterpays encourage overspending and it’s easy to get two or three of these without realising the detrimental effect it will have on the budget.
As a financial counsellor, Hughes is trained to assess her clients’ financial situation and help them develop a plan to improve it, especially if the debts put housing security at risk. According to Hughes, it’s often the job of the financial counsellor to help their clients get a better grasp on – their priorities – and, in some cases, to understand the real value of the roof over their head.
Hughes says that in the 5 years to 2017/18 The Salvation Army’s Moneycare service saw 67% of participants in housing stress, paying more than 30% of their income toward housing whilst 25% of participants experienced extreme housing stress paying 70% of their income towards housing. More than one in four private renters experienced extreme housing stress and in the last 10 years the proportion of private renters over 55 had increased by 55.5%.
To better understand the value of education, The Salvation Army Moneycare undertook a study with Swinburne University that found 94% of financial counselling participants ‘wished they had known earlier ’. As a result of that study Hughes says Moneycare has an emphasis on “educating the community more about budgeting and money”.
Hughes says she often passes The Lady Musgrave Trust’s Handy Guide for Homeless Women on to her female clients, “because all the resources in there are terrific”.
Whether a client is facing a crisis or just looking to tighten up their budget, Hughes says an appointment with a financial counsellor will provide them with helpful and practical information — and that information could make all the difference.
“Financial counselling offers people a step in the right direction, so hopefully they don’t end up facing homelessness.”
Women’s financial literacy will be discussed at the 11th Annual Forum on Women and Homelessness, along with a blend of thought-provoking presentations, practical case studies, panel discussions and master classes on mentoring women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, at the Queensland Multicultural Centre (102 Main Street, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane) on Wednesday 7 August, 2019.
Homelessness doesn’t discriminate. And it can happen in an instant for anyone from any background. But when it comes to the reasons why people find themselves homeless the list is long and varied, touching on a range of social, economic and health-related factors.
It could be as seemingly simple as an unexpected car breakdown, losing a job or some other incident that sets the wheels in motion for a person to suddenly find themselves no longer able to afford their rent or accommodation costs.
Ongoing health issues, struggling to find affordable rental housing, economic and social exclusion, or not feeling safe at home are among the other reasons. But when you look at the research and the anecdotal evidence gathered by those in frontline services, there are four main causes that can single-handedly, or in combination, lead to homelessness.
Family, sexual and domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness across Australia for women and children – and particularly so for those who are young, pregnant or have an Indigenous background. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that in 2016-17 about 72,000 women and 34,000 children found themselves homeless for this very reason. They also discovered the problem has only grown in the past five years.
The AIHW says in Australia one in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15 and, alarmingly, on average one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
In Queensland, 25 per cent of homelessness is attributed to experiencing financial difficulty and the inability to afford adequate housing. This can of course result from many different personal experiences, including short- or long-term unemployment or a sudden loss of employment, as well as debt, housing market pressures and rising rental and housing prices.
There are many other financial pressures too, from everyday living costs to unexpected costs that can tip a person’s budget over the edge and make them financially unstable. Often, financial difficulties will come in combination with the other key drivers for homelessness – such as family breakdown, health obstacles and domestic violence.
Some will experience intergenerational poverty and have never known any different, meaning they lack the connections and therefore possible support in periods of stress or financial hardship, which are difficult to face alone.
The link between homelessness and mental health is well established. Just as mental health problems can be a key contributing factor in the lead-up to homelessness, the very experience of being homeless can leave a devastating impact on individuals at a mental and emotional level. These two issues are tightly interconnected and their impact on the other irrefutable.
While quantifying the prevalence of mental illness as a number of percentage in homeless populations is very difficult, and the estimates that do exist vary greatly, it is fair to say that mental health issues in homeless people are more common than in the average population.
Drug and alcohol issues
The research has found that drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is another factor that can play a role in causing homelessness, but it’s important to note that it’s not always a factor and that there are many stereotypes and stigmas around this very complex issue.
Researchers have consistently found that rates of alcohol and other drug use are higher in the homeless than for the general population – and that for women in particular, drugs can prove a bigger problem than alcohol. It is however very difficult to differentiate how much substance abuse leads to homelessness in comparison to how homelessness may lead to substance abuse, so they are are interconnected.
There are many varied factors that can influence a person’s life in the lead-up to and during homelessness that make this a very complex issue and one that we must continue to address.
The Lady Musgrave Trust is Queensland’s oldest charity, and is committed to making a difference in the lives of those who find themselves homeless and in need at difficult times in their life.
We focus specifically on women and children’s homelessness throughout Queensland and provide young women up to the age of 30 with low cost accommodation and support services in our portfolio in Brisbane and Ipswich. We also create and distribute The Handy Guide for Homeless Women and host a unique Annual Forum focused on women and homelessness.
On any given night in Australia, there are 116,000 people who are considered homeless. That’s about 50 homeless persons for every 10,000 people. And the rate of homelessness is only increasing – up 4.6 per cent in five years according the the latest data from the 2016 Census.
But what does it actually mean to be homeless?
The very word ‘homelessness’ conjures an image that alludes to sleeping rough. But in reality, this vision represents only about seven per cent of the homeless population.
While there’s no internationally recognised common definition of homelessness, in Australia our federal law defines it as ‘inadequate access to safe and secure housing’.
This includes where the only housing available to a person is likely to damage their health or threatens their safety, or perhaps marginalises them by failing to provide access to adequate personal amenities or the normal economic and social support of a home. It also includes where it may place them in circumstances that threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security and affordability of that housing.
What this doesn’t include is the multitude of people who are ‘sleeping rough’, which often involves people moving between friends and families houses in search of a safe night’s sleep.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) offers further insight to understand the complexities and help show how homelessness can affect people in different ways, depending on their own personal situations and needs.
To better understand homelessness in its various forms and what it looks like and what those people are experiencing, they’ve created three specific categories to specify the details and differences – primary, secondary and tertiary homelessness.
“Primary homelessness” includes those living on the streets, in parks, under bridges, in deserted buildings or improvised dwellings – or being ‘roofless’ or ‘sleeping out’ as it’s sometimes called. This is the most visible kind of homeless, but is the smallest statistic.
“Secondary homelessness” refers to people who are moving between various types of temporary shelters. This includes emergency accommodation, refuges and hostels, bunking with friends and relatives, and living in a boarding house on a long-term basis with shared amenities and no secure tenure.
And “tertiary homelessness” – people who are living in single rooms in private boarding houses without their own bathroom and kitchen, and no secure tenure.
It is important to recognise that all of these forms or levels of homelessness involve a group of people who are in need of safe and secure housing in order to get back on their feet and have the basic human right of shelter.
The Lady Musgrave Trust helps by focusing specifically on women and children’s homelessness throughout Queensland. We provide young women up to the age of 30 with low cost accommodation and support services in our portfolio in Brisbane and Ipswich. We also create and distribute The Handy Guide for Homeless Women and host a unique Annual Forum focused on women and homelessness.
As Queensland’s oldest charity, The Lady Musgrave Trust is committed to making a difference in the lives of those who find themselves homeless and in need at difficult times in their life.