Two new homelessness services for ACT

Contracts have been awarded to two organisations to provide specialised homelessness services for older women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and a service for asylum seeker and migrant women and families.

The contract for a new $1.9 million homelessness service for older women in the ACT has been awarded to the YWCA and the contract for a new $1.8 million homelessness service for asylum seeker and migrant women and families has been awarded to Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services (MARSS).

Through conversations to develop the ACT Housing Strategy, the community were clear that these two cohorts are in need of more tailored support and in the 2018-19 Budget the government committed $6.5 million to address these gaps in the homelessness service system, as well as extend OneLink’s operating hours to provide more frontline services.

There remains a significant service gap for the older women cohort as they are much less likely to seek support and often remain outside the services sector. Research has shown that older women are disproportionately overrepresented among low income people in housing stress, and often do not identify their circumstances as homeless.

Studies have also shown that women retire with approximately half the superannuation of men, on average, and may be found living with friends, sleeping in their cars or on the couch, indicating a prevalence of secondary homelessness and low statistical visibility for this cohort.

The YWCA has had a long and successful history working with women since 1929, and its commitment to supporting homelessness services for older women is evident through its existing services, such as several affordable community housing options, a supportive tenancy service, and more recently the launch of a not-for-profit affordable real estate service.

The new MARSS service will address the gap where many asylum seekers and some migrants lack access to employment or housing support, or receive welfare while they wait for their immigration status to be resolved. This lack of income or tenable housing puts them at risk of falling into crisis without appropriate intervention. Some in this cohort, particularly women, also find themselves homeless after a relationship breakdown or fleeing domestic and family violence.

MARSS has identified a robust assessment system to identify, prioritise and meet housing needs and will provide medium term accommodation and case management to support vulnerable migrants into sustainable housing. Havelock House will provide support to ensure the tenancy is suitable and sustainable for the long-term.

As needed, MARSS will offer financial assistance to cover all rent and utility expenses in cases where individuals or families are not able to contribute to these costs. The service will also connect families and individuals with key legal, education and employment services, as well as make community connections, while their immigrations status is being resolved.

The ACT Government is committed to addressing the challenges faced by people in the ACT who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

As noted by Frances Crimmins, CEO, YWCA Canberra:

“YWCA Canberra has supported women and their families in the ACT for 90 years, so we’re delighted to continue to collaborate with the ACT Government to ensure older women in our community have a safe and secure place to call home.

“We’re excited that this new service will complement Rentwell, our new charitable property management service as well as our transitional housing, supportive tenancy service and outreach work in the community.

“At YWCA Canberra we believe that we can end homelessness, and this new initiative will provide housing support to the fastest growing cohort of Canberrans facing homelessness.”

As noted by Dewani Bakkum, CEO, MARSS

“MARSS has a strong and nuanced understanding of asylum seeker, refugee and migrant communities, including the barriers and issues they face settling into life in Australia.

“This understanding has been developed through more than 35 years of experience engaging with the ACT’s migrant communities.

“MARSS has been granted the tender for Homelessness Service Asylum Seekers and Families with Uncertain Immigration Status by the ACT Government and we are looking forward to build on our previous experience in providing successful accommodation services to cater for the women and families seeking asylum in the ACT.

“Within this program MARSS will provide housing maintenance and tenancy support as well as wrap-around services to assist asylum seeker women and families in finding homes and settling into Australia.”

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