Ringwood Lake walk shines spotlight on homelessness in Melbourne’s east

The Maroondah community have joined in the effort to help spread awareness of homelessness in the eastern region during an event held at Ringwood Lake Park in the lead-up to Homelessness Week (4-10 August).

The Eastern Homelessness Network (EHN) hosted the ‘Homeward Bound Walk: A Walk to End Homelessness’ on Tuesday 30 July, in a bid to raise awareness of the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne’s east.

A total of 190 people, including 50 students from Ringwood Secondary College and Aquinas College, Ringwood, walked the perimeter of the lake and listened to real-life stories of speakers who have experienced homelessness.

Mayor of Maroondah Cr Rob Steane, who cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the event, was joined by Member for Ringwood Dustin Halse, and 12 eastern metropolitan region councillors, including fellow councillors Deputy Mayor Kylie Spears, and Councillors Tony Dib and Tasa Damante.

Jo McDonald, EHN Coordinator, said the organisation used the walk as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issues contributing to homelessness in the eastern region, including how Australia’s housing affordability crisis had created a shortage of affordable options for people on low incomes.

“With more and more people struggling to afford the private rental market, the demand for affordable or social rental properties is outstripping supply. This shortage is driving record levels of homelessness,” said Ms McDonald.

“Homelessness Week is a chance for us to connect with decision makers and show them first-hand how the homelessness crisis is affecting our local area. The solutions to homelessness are at our fingertips, and we just need the political will to make them happen,” she said.

The theme for Homelessness Week 2019 is ‘Housing ends homelessness’.

On any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are homeless.

The latest data by Homelessness Australia also shows that 3,280 people are homeless within the Eastern Metropolitan Area.

According to recent Eastern Homelessness Network figures, more than 12,000 people sought the assistance of homelessness and crisis services in Melbourne’s east in 2017/18.

Many of them are Melbourne’s ‘hidden homeless’, are people who live temporarily with others but who aren’t guaranteed permanent, private and secure housing.

Cr Steane said changes in the housing market and an increased demand for affordable housing in Maroondah were two key issues impacting the local community.

“Last year, Council adopted its Affordable and Social Housing Policy aimed at helping to address affordable and social housing issues in the municipality,” he said.

“In preparing this document, Council found that the increasing price of private rental is a key contributing factor that has led to an increase in homelessness in suburbs such as Ringwood and Croydon,” he added.

“This policy aims to guide Council in finding solutions to these issues through regional collaboration, advocacy to higher levels of government and by working with developers to contribute to the region’s social/public housing supply,” Cr Steane added.

Council is a member of the Maroondah Emergency Relief Network – a group of agencies who play a direct role in supporting those experiencing disadvantage, homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

It is also a member of the Eastern Affordable Housing Alliance (EAHA) – comprising each of the six eastern metropolitan region councils – which advocates for increased housing affordability in the region.

According to the Council for Homeless Persons (CHP), Victoria’s homelessness peak body, homelessness can be caused by poverty, lack of affordable housing, poor physical or mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, family and relationship breakdown or domestic violence.

Supporting people who are sleeping rough in public spaces

In 2015, Council developed the Maroondah Protocol for Assisting People Sleeping Rough in Public Spaces.

The Protocol aims to assist people sleeping rough to receive services if they need or request them, and provides Council and its employees with a framework for responding to instances of people sleeping rough within the municipality.

The Protocol also aims to ensure people experiencing homelessness are treated respectfully and appropriately and are not discriminated against on the basis of their situation.

In 2018, the Victorian Government announced additional funding to address homelessness. Wellways was funded to deliver Pathways to Home, an assertive outreach support program for people who are rough sleeping in Maroondah. The program supports people experiencing rough sleeping by connecting them with their community and the services they need. This includes physical and mental health services, drug and alcohol services, legal, housing and other services, and providing advocacy to those services where needed.

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