Homelessness crisis in Ballarat exacerbated by Reid’s Guest House closure | The Courier

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The temporary closure of an accommodation facility as a result of a fire has had ripple effects across the region, highlighting the continuing crisis facing those experiencing homelessness. A fire broke out at Reid’s Guest House on February 10, making the facility “uninhabitable”, and meaning about 50 people living there were displaced. Uniting Ballarat staff have worked tirelessly to find alternative accommodation options to keep people off the streets since the incident saw people evacuated from the Lydiard Street building in the middle of the night. Yet the loss of 50 beds has caused ripples across Ballarat and put further pressure on a sector already struggling to find enough beds for vulnerable people. Uniting Ballarat’s manager of homelessness, Adam Liversage, said the organisation had worked with community partners to canvas not only Ballarat but “as far as Melbourne” to explore accommodation options for those who had been staying at Reid’s. He said Uniting funded the accommodation each resident was placed into after the fire, and were co-contributing to their current accommodation costs – whether it is a hotel, motel or supported residential facility. “All guests who needed accommodation were placed in accommodation,” he said. He said that despite an increase of rough sleepers in Ballarat, no resident who had been staying at Reid’s had been left to fend for themselves on the streets. “There has overall been a general increase of rough sleepers on the streets due to lack of affordable housing options,” he explained. RELATED COVERAGE: Fire at Reid’s Guest House leaves 50 people searching for accommodation RELATED COVERAGE: Challenge to relocate guests from Reid’s highlights housing crisis Uniting’s Street2Home outreach workers have supported 126 people sleeping rough so far this financial year. They are currently assisting 41 people who are sleeping rough, including 18 in Ballarat Central. Mr Liversage said all of the 50 people who had been displaced by the fire were being contacted by staff weekly, while the repairs – which could take months – were undertaken. “Uniting workers have gone above and beyond to ensure Reid’s residents are safe and referral pathways have taken place for supports,” he said, explaining that these supports could be for mental health, drug or alcohol treatment but also linking each resident in with victims of crime. “Across all our services we’ve ensured they’re all linked in to ensure they’re all getting the support they need.” Mr Liversage said the temporary closure of a facility in a sector that was already struggling to find affordable housing was “really difficult”. “To lose 50 beds has not only impacted those residents who were staying there but for a homelessness entry point that really rely on those 50 beds, it has hit the sector really hard. There’s no doubting that. “It’s been a really difficult time. It’s not nice turning vulnerable members of our community away because we can’t provide a bed or service and because we don’t have the funds to place them in crisis accommodation. “It’s really difficult and has had a devastating impact on programs like Peplow House.” Abbey Cutler, a key worker at Catholic Care’s Peplow House, said the Webster Street address had taken in some people displaced by the fire, as had other crisis accommodation facilities in Ballarat. Peplow House is a short-term crisis accommodation facility, so the Reid’s closure means there are even fewer options available for people to exit into. Reid’s allowed people to live there for an initial period of 60 nights while staff helped to secure longer-term accommodation. “We get calls every day from people needing help,” she explained, adding that all of the existing facilities were “already full and the people in them have nowhere to go”. It means people are needing to stay at options like Peplow House for longer, which means there are not enough beds for people who are newly becoming homeless. “We are working really hard to find more alternative accommodation but there is nothing. We cannot tap into the private rental market because it is not affordable. “The cheapest we’re finding is $200 a week and those houses are falling to pieces – no person should be made to live in that sort of place. “The private rental market is just off the cards, nobody can afford that. “Reid’s was a very good exit option for us because it was longer-term, but that exit option is now gone,” Ms Cutler said. “The homeless community is at a stalemate now, where accommodation centres are full and people in them can’t be moved on as there is no option without Reid’s.” The 22-year-old, who has been working in the sector for about 12-months, said the situation had put stress on a sector already struggling to put roofs over the heads of people experiencing homelessness. Noting that the situation was “taking a toll”, she said it was now at a “crisis point” ahead of another Ballarat winter. “We’ve already had some pretty crappy nights. As a homeless worker, I believe something needs to be done about this,” she said. She said people working in the sector were feeling “defeated”, while people finding themselves homeless and who were reaching out for help only to find out there was nowhere for them to go were “pissed off” and “feeling hopeless”. She said the situation in Ballarat was different to larger cities, such as Melbourne, where many people lived on the streets in the central business district. “You won’t walk up and down Sturt Street and see people with all their stuff. “[Homeless people] are not as visible on the streets. They are couch surfing, sleeping in cars or in tents in the bush but they are homeless- they don’t have a home.” Ms Cutler wants people to “understand the importance of having secure accommodation” and the need to step away from “stereotypical views” of people experiencing homelessness. “Often it is just one bad thing that happens and results in a downward spiral and pushes them into homelessness. “They are human beings – they are not drug addicts, they’re not violent, some of them have just had relationship breakdowns or divorce that has put them in this position where they are homeless,” she said, adding that many had work but simply could not afford the high cost of rent on their income. She said secure housing was critical as it allowed a person to work on other issues they were experiencing. “If we don’t put people into houses, we could see deaths because of the weather, we could see rising crime because people will turn to crime to get supplies or money or rising mental health or addiction issues because they are no longer being addressed.” “This is probably the most desperate I’ve ever seen the homeless community in Ballarat and I’m not just going to stand by and let it happen,” Ms Cutler said. She believes immediate funding is needed to house people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels or supported accommodation until the building is repaired. This is expected to take months, due to building permits and heritage overlay requirements. Ms Cutler has been writing to politicians about the situation in a bid to secure funding but is yet to receive any commitments. “We are all feeling a bit defeated but it has been a bit of a motivation for me. If I write these letters and approach these MPs and nothing is done, that’s not going to stop me,” she said. “I will push and push until something is done about this. We cannot have people on the streets like this. It’s not humane.” She said the Ballarat community needed to support those experiencing homelessness by raising their voices, too. “It’s really frustrating. I know what we can do to solve this problem. I know how we can solve the homeless crisis long-term. “I’m sick of not being listened to so I’m really stepping up now. I’m trying to solve this current crisis with Reid’s and when this is solved I’m going to push the MPs further and say we’ve got an election coming up, this is what needs to be done.” Mr Liversage said the incident had highlighted the need for more social housing right across the region. “We are seeing increases in our homelessness populations,” he said. “We know there are already very limited housing options available within the Ballarat region, let alone for those who are vulnerable,” he said. “It is important to note that whilst these clients have not been impacted by the incident at Reid’s, we are feeling the loss of this short-term accommodation option in Ballarat.” It comes as Uniting’s homelessness establishment fund is about to be cut back from $500 a day, heightening the issue. “During COVID, during the last two years, we’ve been able to place anyone and everyone into some form of crisis accommodation. “So when you look at it, the state government actually solved homelessness and we had the funds and resources to take everyone off the streets and place them in some form of accommodation.” For those who were vulnerable, he said higher Centrelink payments had meant people could afford to pay their rent. “Homelessness was almost solved.” While Uniting is contributing $20 million to build 500 new social housing properties across the region in the next few years, given the current and anticipated future need, Uniting would support any initiatives which would deliver more social and affordable housing across Ballarat. 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