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Homelessness in Sydney
September 22, 2009 10:38 PM   Subscribe


 
Quire a bit of this was filmed in my backyard and was pretty confronting. Especially the costs of $900 a week for crappy motel accommodation, or $500 a week for the slum. An average 3br house rents for $250 a week locally. I'm not 100% clear why the Dept. of Housing pays $900 a week for 16 weeks to keep a family in crisis accommodation, when that payment would have covered a year's rent in the private market. I suspect part of the problem is an understandable reluctance to move away from your home area, but it seems to me that if you are living in a motel room an hour away anyway, for weeks at a time, I'd be taking whatever I could get.
posted by bystander at 10:53 PM on September 22, 2009


The answer to your question, speaking as someone who has had many spells of homelessness in his life and is currently destitute enough to have to panhandle on an offramp for survival money, is that most landlords are unwilling to take government welfare cases. In the states it's called Section 8, and most landlords expressly forbid it in their screening process. So it's a shitty overly expensive weekly hotel, or battle for a bed at the shelter.

Aside from the junkies and the mental cases, no one thinks they will end up homeless. It just happens.

And before the inevitable snark (panhandle but have internet? lol), I live in a shitty efficiency without a kitchen or bathroom that includes a crappy WiFi connection.
posted by mediocre at 11:44 PM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


I watched that programme with a growing sense of rage. The decisions made by the authorities were the height of absurdity at times. bystander, the 'understandable reluctance' (if I recall correctly) was, in a number of cases because the children that had learning disabilities were established in local schools and they didn't want to disrupt them further.

What was telling was that all the families that were involved in the programme were found housing after the programme was made. They should make it a nightly show.
posted by tellurian at 11:49 PM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


What was telling was that all the families that were involved in the programme were found housing after the programme was made.

Now isn't that peculiar?
posted by Wolof at 12:38 AM on September 23, 2009


What. The. Hell.

Seriously.

Family with 2 kids and no employment is A$1300 or so a fortnight ($650/week). Base payment + Family Tax Benefit A + Family Tax Benefit B + Rent Assistance piles up a fair whack of cash.

Even paying Perth prices for a place to live (which are as bad if not worse than Sydney) of $350 a week for a 3bdrm in a decent suburb I could pull a family together. Go out a bit further to the boonies for $250 a week and it seems even more affordable.

You're not exactly flush with cash but I have to seriously question how exactly you can't afford shelter with those numbers. Go without the phone, go without the net, go without the heat if you have to! It's sydney for the love of all that is good and holy! Put on a sweater and a decent blanket and you'll be still warm on a 35 degree night. I do it now! Hit up Good Sammys and other second hand clothing stores.

I've seen people do far better on unemployment with far less in payments. Getting Newstart + FTB A + FTB B + RA and still not affording a house has to be some kind of overexaggeration
posted by Talez at 1:07 AM on September 23, 2009


The other thing to remember is, if you've fucked up in the past with not paying rent or keeping your rental property in good order, you have a record that follows you and it becomes extremely hard to find a realtor (or owner) who will rent to you. This shouldn't be forgotten because you can make lots of other changes in your life but if you're being judged on your past it can be extremely difficult to find other people who will allow you to move past it.
posted by h00py at 1:14 AM on September 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


Talez I think you're not focussing on the right thing here. I wonder, indeed, if you actually watched the episode. The problem isn't money - some of the families featured even have jobs, which puts them ahead of the paltry newstart. The problem is a very tight rental market (in Sydney) where landlords and estate agents can afford to pick and choose who they like.

If you're unemployed, good luck getting a rental buddy. If you have a family, look desperate, but not desperate enough to accept illegal conditions, or simply don't look right, they will pick someone else.

Your point about money also presupposes a financial literacy that lots of these people may not have. Witness one family in the story who are on their sixth car of the year. "We keep buying the cheap ones, but they keep breaking down".

I would never assume that someone in a shit situation secretly 'wants' to be in it. It's rarely the case. Unable, certainly, but that's a different story.
posted by smoke at 1:36 AM on September 23, 2009


Converting Talez's figures to USD, that's about $2275/mo.
posted by ryanrs at 1:50 AM on September 23, 2009


If that was the case then every less than desirable tenant would be out on the streets. If you're running into barriers it means you're still in an area that can afford to be more discerning with your clientele. You may just have to stick it out and move into a place where you might not want to be for a little while.

I just can't fathom how people repeatedly fall through cracks like that. Share houses, caravan parks, motels, family members, teaming up with other families to get a bigger house in a more desirable area.

It's unbelievably easy to be on the outside looking in as some upper-middle class snob but after watching so many other people, friends, family members go through what they went through and come out the other side not homeless for months (how does one go without finding housing for months at a time I simply cannot work out, even a mate of mine who had the shittiest rent record imaginable and no money managed to find a place inside of three weeks by lowering his standards a little) by their own resourcefulness and innovation I just don't see how this still happens.
posted by Talez at 1:57 AM on September 23, 2009


I haven't watched the program yet but saw something similar a few months ago. A labourer had lost his job, was having trouble finding anything more than a few hours casual work a month because all the other blokes who'd been laid off were competing for the same work. He was having to scrounge around for tiny bits of money to buy potatoes to feed his two kids, because all his money was going on rent for a decently plain house out in the sticks. He'd cut off all their Foxtel and mobile phones and all that. But it was still a struggle to pay the rent anywhere near where he could get work.

Tangent: I kept wondering why he didn't go to his local St Vincent de Paul or whoever and take a food package. Pride? Not being aware of the service?

I used to do volunteer work for Vinnies, admin for the people giving out food packages. You could come in to pick up a box with cordial, cereal, instant mash, tinned vegies or soup or whatever, no questions asked. Or they'd drop it off to your house. It came from donations from supermarkets and Jiffy food vans (so sometimes there'd be frozen pies or choc milk).

And we didn't judge anyone who needed the service as long as they didn't abuse it - there were semi-regulars, but sometimes they'd just have one box and we'd never see them again. We offered free budgeting pamphlets and stuff like that too, someone to chat to about how to get yourself sorted out. If you're ever in a situation where you have to choose between food or rent, please don't hesitate to approach a charity and ask if they've got a food service. It's what they do, and there's no shame in accepting help to keep yourself fed or have a roof over your head.
posted by harriet vane at 2:33 AM on September 23, 2009


You may just have to stick it out and move into a place where you might not want to be for a little while.

The problem being, even (especially?) in Perth, that by the time you're out where you can afford the rent, you might not be able to afford the petrol or the bus fare to get to job interviews. The buses might only run once or twice a day, and not at a time that'll get your kids to school on time.
posted by harriet vane at 2:40 AM on September 23, 2009


If that was the case then every less than desirable tenant would be out on the streets.

(Sorry, I need that edit window.) Rental contracts prevent crap tenants from just being thrown out. If you're merely late with payments, if you don't clean the house but don't actually need health services to step in, if you're noisy - doesn't mean landlords can just boot you in favour of a more deserving person.

And as soon as landlords do get rid of a crap tenant, they've got hundreds of applicants to choose from. Last time I had to rent (6 yrs ago), we had to sweet-talk the real-estate agencies into giving us news of places that hadn't quite been listed yet. And I was part of a professionally employed couple, no kids, no pets. People were offering extra cash payments for consideration of their application. From what I've heard, it's not changed much in the last few years. How do you decide between dozens of applicants? It's completely random.
posted by harriet vane at 2:50 AM on September 23, 2009


There's a whole raft of issues here. I used to work for Centrelink, back when it was called Social (in)security, and I spent a few years as a single parent afterwards, in a slum in Brisbane. (Payback, I guess).

I'm pretty intelligent, and I can budget, but I had government housing (I knew how to apply), and I was within walking distance of a shopping centre and a school (my preschool children walked a mile each way to kindergarten) and I managed. I handwashed nappies for two kids for a month or so (seriously, you NEVER ever want to do that), cleaned a friends fridge that had housed chickens so I could use it, had no furniture but mattresses on the floor, and budgetted my arse off. If I didn't have that ability, even with the help I had, my bills would have piled up, and even the housing commission would have kicked me out. Some of the people I lived next door to over a period of 5 years in that area had absolutely no idea.

What do you do if you're a kid (say 21) with a baby, and you've never handled money before? You fuck up. And you keep on fucking up, and your only role models are people who dealt with it by yelling at the authorities. This doesn't work, but they have no idea how to handle it. Your boyfriend smokes dope and tells you not to worry, it'll all work out and the kid has worms but you're ashamed to take them to the doctor, so you spend what's left on a box of wine so you can stop feeling

You know what, when I worked for Centrelink, me and a bunch of other people who had enough money to be able make all sorts of mistakes (and believe me, I didn't have a privileged background but public servants back then got a decent wage) would look at all these "deadbeats" and "dropouts", and mothers with children to five fathers and bogans and make them jump through one more hoop and maybe another because "it's our tax money they're spending". How ironic for a public servant to think that, eh?

Try walking a mile in their shoes. You'll probably find that 90% of them (maybe even more) have a story to tell, just like these guys. They need support that you can't legislate for. A very very few will learn self-discipline, and impart it to their kids and escape the system. For the rest, it's a hard life and a very unrewarding one.
posted by b33j at 4:18 AM on September 23, 2009 [16 favorites]


The thing is, as hard as it is to imagine if you've not been on the inside, people do get turned down for houses. They do find themselves thinking oh fuck, I'm homeless.

If you still have a lease and you're fucking up, you probably do have some footing to stand on.

If, however, you've got yourself to a point where your lease is up, you have a shithouse record, you're looking for somewhere else, no-one wants you because you didn't pay your rent every week and you have nowhere to go and you have to be out of where you are yesterday, it's scarily easy to find yourself homeless.

Yes, there are resources and yes, they are easily found if you know where to go. That's the wonderful thing about the internet - resources at your fingertips, you just have to type to find them.

I sometimes think that people often forget how many people have no idea what the internet offers them.. It's not the telephone yet, folks!
posted by h00py at 4:19 AM on September 23, 2009


Let me make this clear before we get the wrong idea. I have no qualms about spending money on the less fortunate.

But I don't understand how families can be out in a motel for 4 months and still not find a private rental.

And for the record, Perth is a stupidly easy place to get around without a car. I pay 50/week for public transport to the second last stop on the Clarkson line which is easily less than petrol to/from the city. Only places way up in the hills get twice a day service and half the buses and all trains run until midnight.
posted by Talez at 5:00 AM on September 23, 2009


If I were a real estate agent, and I had 20 -100 people wanting to rent my vacant properties, it's entirely possible that I would choose folk with a higher income than welfare, especially if they didn't have appropriate references, or had been homeless for the last 5 months - how the hell can that happen to a good tenant?
posted by b33j at 5:10 AM on September 23, 2009


I remember seeing a Documentary years ago about Byron Bay (pre-schmuck days). Byron Bay used to be a dole-bludger paradise - they will rent a large home and share it - no heating is required in Byron Bay - and have a jolly time.

They interview this guy coming out of the surf 8 o clock in the morning, ask the usual question, yes is on the dole since some years, no motivation / skills etc then they ask him "why do you go surfing so early in the morning, you could sleep in" and he answers: "Well at 10 am there is a lot more people in the water !".

So there are people (the surfer guy plus lots of others) which are smart and can manage perfectly even on the dole, and other (abc link) which cannot. And they will have a shit life even with a job.
posted by elcapitano at 5:18 AM on September 23, 2009


I remember seeing a Documentary years ago about Byron Bay (pre-schmuck days). Byron Bay used to be a dole-bludger paradise - they will rent a large home and share it - no heating is required in Byron Bay - and have a jolly time.

Was it, hmmm a documentary years ago, or in fact a segment on that dodgiest of shows that is regularly sued for slander (and loses _all the time_), Today Tonight less than a week ago.

Way to not make your point, dude.
posted by smoke at 5:48 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


What landlord is dying to rent their flat to the destitute family? Just because YOU can rent a flat for X number of dollars doesn't mean everyone can. In the same vein, I can get a line of credit from my bank fairly easily, with a reasonably interest rate. Other people who probably need a line of credit more than myself need to get payday loans. You can gauge the poor because they have fewer options.
posted by chunking express at 6:37 AM on September 23, 2009


Damn that comment barely makes sense. Hopefully you can figure it out.
posted by chunking express at 6:45 AM on September 23, 2009


One comment notes that many landlords in the states do not take (welfare ) section 8. Ought not that be discrimination in the same way that a landlord might refuse housing based on color or religion? I understand that no matter what the laws may be, one can always find ways to skirt said laws, but still isn't it on the books?
posted by Postroad at 7:26 AM on September 23, 2009


One comment notes that many landlords in the states do not take (welfare ) section 8. Ought not that be discrimination in the same way that a landlord might refuse housing based on color or religion? I understand that no matter what the laws may be, one can always find ways to skirt said laws, but still isn't it on the books?

It's not illegal at a federal level. US fair housing law only says you can't discriminate based on race, sex, religion, disability or family status. (That last means that, for instance, you can't refuse to rent to a family just because they have kids.) But you can use any other criteria you want to rule out tenants — including, say, their job, their income, or whether they get Section 8.

Now, some cities or counties have passed laws specifically saying you can't refuse tenants just because they're get Section 8. But outside of places like that, yes, finding a landlord who takes it can be really hard, because a lot of them flat-out refuse to.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2009


Quire a bit of this was filmed in my backyard

Is there a term for when the spellchecker approves a typo? My aunt somehow managed to play "quire" in every game of scrabble. It means a pack of 24 or 25 sheets of paper.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like many of the people in this comments thread, I, too, believe that poverty could never possibly happen to me and that if it did, I would be so excellent at dealing with it that it would be brief and temporary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:39 AM on September 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Converting Talez's figures to USD, that's about $2275/mo.

My son, who became mentally ill at age 26, with a full time work history of 5 years and a partime work history of 3 years, receives less than $900 a month of social security disability, and $17 dollars of food stamps.

Some of his friends from the day treatment center, who become disabled at a younger age, receive around $600 per month, with a $40 dollars food stamp benefit.

It is very hard for the mentally ill to survive, especially considering that the majority of them suffer also from tobacco and alcohol addiction.
posted by francesca too at 9:55 AM on September 23, 2009


In the states it's called Section 8, and most landlords expressly forbid it in their screening process.

Actually the trend has been for entire apartment complexes to go Section 8, to the point where you cannot apply if you're Section 8. This is really popular in the suburbs and starting to become a problem. There's already a shortage of apartments and the only alternative is to buy a house. "Lower end" (i.e., non-luxury) apartments are being converted to Section 8, land lords love it because it is a guaranteed payment and those seeking Section 8 in the suburbs usually to do so for the nicer schools and the neighborhood so you have a real self-selection going on here. This becomes a real problem for just out of college workforce in that they usually make above Section 8, but not enough for the next rental category where you have a real jump to absurd, $1,800 luxury apartments. This is further pushed by the fact the city zones only so much rental property and home owner associations have no renting covenants. The situation is often buy a house, rent expensive units or simply live further away from your office.

I assume Australia and Sydney are like this for similar reason. Newer cities without any sort of natural boundary don't seem conducive to those not wanting home ownership.
posted by geoff. at 10:35 AM on September 23, 2009


In case anyone was wondering "bogans" is an Australian term that roughly translates to "hicks."

I wonder, is living in a motel really being homeless? It is just a shorter term rental, but it has plumbing and climate control, doors and locks. I think of homeless as living on the street, in a car, in a tent, squatting in a condemned building, not living in an above board private housing situation you don't prefer.

They and people like them have been dealt a hard blow, and their situation is not right. They may end up homeless, but I would say they aren't yet. Semantics really, any way you look at it they need help. That early intervention keeps them from being truly homeless, so its a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Here in the states we don't have as fine a safety net so more people slip through and do land on the actual streets.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 10:44 AM on September 23, 2009


Nothing like a simple analysis of a complex problem. Gonna feed them some cake as well, Talez? Or in a more positive vein, if it's so easy to get these people into housing, why don't you volunteer some time, say a couple hours a week, to act as a go-between to get these people into apartments?

My hunch is that you'll find it much more difficult than you think. But then in that case, there's always cake.
posted by happyroach at 1:19 PM on September 23, 2009


Housing discrimination can happen even to "ideal" renters.

I'm a professional, so's my partner. We're both educated and have no bankruptcies or other black marks on our financial history.

When we went to look for an apartment my partner had to hide her pregnancy for fear we'd get rejected by landlords. Where we lived, an apartment with infants in it must be de-leaded, and it must be deleaded by techs in moon suits in a negative pressure environment. Expensive. And the landlord bears the full cost. But only if there are kids in the apartment.

Now, instead of having a kid, imagine we had: a kid, a bankruptcy, a criminal record, the wrong skin color, the wrong class.

Is it legal to discriminate on these? No. But when you have 50 - 100 applicants, it's so easy to pick one that doesn't have the attributes you dislike, and so hard to prove why you didn't get the place.
posted by zippy at 3:11 PM on September 23, 2009


You've all started to get to the gist of the problem (in Australia at least - we're a weird mob).

Undersupply of housing, along with failures in anticipating the necessary changes to urban planning.

Rents are high and the rental market is highly competitive - because there is not enough suitable housing. Partly this is because Australia's population continues to grow (for various reasons), partly it reflects government policy around investment and so forth.

Meanwhile, the urban planning that was built around the car (aka urban sprawl) is now coming back to bite us - a preference for detached housing and growing congestion has meant that finding a place to live near where you can find work and schooling is very challenging.
posted by jjderooy at 9:05 PM on September 23, 2009


One comment notes that many landlords in the states do not take (welfare ) section 8. Ought not that be discrimination in the same way that a landlord might refuse housing based on color or religion? I understand that no matter what the laws may be, one can always find ways to skirt said laws, but still isn't it on the books?

It probably varies throughout the US, but in the county where I own a rental property, they make you jump through quite a few hoops to qualify to accept Section 8 vouchers, and for me, with only a single unit to rent and a vested interest in maintaining that property in the event that I might be able to sell it some day, it's not necessarily worth the effort and not everyone has the time to go through the process required. I agonized over that, because my property is in an area where being able to offer it to Section 8 recipients would not only have made it easier to fill, but also really could have helped someone. If I owned multiple properties, if getting warm rent-paying bodies into the house as quickly as possible wasn't a concern so that I could complete the necessary paperwork, and if being a landlord was my day job and not something that kind of happened to me by accident (as it is with many landlords for many reasons), it would be different.
posted by padraigin at 10:16 PM on September 23, 2009


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