Far From Home

2 June 2016 Melissa Cranenburgh

Far From Home

Illustration by Michel Streich

Homelessness. It’s been a Big Issue from the very beginning. Or page 10 of the first edition – to be precise. A young contributor called Simon Castles (who would go on to become the magazine’s editor) wrote the first of a series of articles under the somewhat self-evident headline: ‘What’s the Big Deal About Homelessness?’ The big deal was that then – in 1996 – there were at least 60,000 people considered homeless in Australia. And more than a third of those were, as Castles put it, “young people”. The starkly informative article – set in a mostly black-and-white layout, leavened with patches of blue (printing was cheaper if you used full-colour sparingly) – was humanised with pictures, the most prominent of which depicted an anxious-looking young woman holding a fragile newborn.

In the 20 years since, The Big Issue’s print-production and headline-writing may have improved, but the issue with which it remains inextricably linked – homelessness – hasn’t. If anything, the situation is worse.

In our most recent edition devoted to the issue of housing (No Place Like Home, Ed#497) urban planning expert Carolyn Whitzman wrote: “Capital city rents rose by twice the level of inflation from 2005 to 2010. In 2011, there was a shortage of over half-a-million suitable rental properties, so even most households who are receiving rental subsidies from the government are paying well over the recommended maximum rent.” Whitzman went on to summarise the findings of Anglicare’s annual ‘Rental Affordability Snapshot’ for 2015: “A single person on government payments living in a capital city (such as a person with disability, an 18-year-old moving out of foster care, or any single parent with children) cannot access any rental properties at the recommended maximum rent.” Whitzman concluded: “For many households, the choice is stark: pay the rent or eat, but not both.”

As well as supporting the people that are cut out of housing by these circumstances, The Big Issue organisation has now become involved in helping to ameliorate the housing shortage. In 2015, the Homes for Homes initiative was launched. Homes for Homes encourages homeowners and organisations involved in property transactions to donate 0.1 per cent of their property sale price at the time they sell. On a $500,000 property transaction, this would be $500. This would be made through a change to the property title, which would stay in place when the property is transferred to a new owner, who has the option to opt out. This process will help raise an ongoing supply of new funding for social and affordable houses. Our aim is to help provide more people with a place to call home. And we need it now more than ever.

The last census, from 2011, listed more than 105,000 Australians as homeless – a 17 per cent jump on the 2006 figure. A whopping 60 per cent were under 34 years old. And more than 17 per cent were under 12. That’s 17,000 plus young children who are without a home in Australia today.

As much as we would like to move on from it, as much as we would like to instead be celebrating an end to this crisis, it seems homelessness is a Big Issue that we will be grappling with for some time yet.

by Melissa Cranenburgh

Learn more or get involved at homesforhomes.com.au.

This article first appeared in Ed#513 of The Big Issue, our special 20th Anniversary Edition!