Women’s Health Goulburn North East will, during the next two months, be talking with communities across north-east Victoria and the Goulburn Valley about how we might collectively reimagine local, state and national housing systems to better serve the needs of all people. We’d love you to be involved in the conversation. Let’s start by exploring the questions within this blog together – write to us at whealth@whealth.com.au or via the link, and let’s talk.

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Housing is a basic human right. 

And yet, as Homelessness Week rolls around again this week, we’re made acutely aware of the fact that this is a right that remains unmet and unfulfilled for large – and ever-growing – numbers of people in our communities. 

Data released by Homelessness Australia demonstrates that Australian rents have increased by 40% since April 2020, while rental vacancy rates have fallen to a record low of 1% across the country. 

This is not only squeezing people who want to rent out of their existing homes, but out of the rental market entirely.  

And it’s pushing up the country’s homelessness rates – in December last year, just over 89,000 people were seeking support from homelessness services. In March 2023, this number sat at more than 95,700. 

As an organisation that homes in (pardon the pun) on the experiences of people on the margins of our social and economic systems – people who experience sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, povertyism, visa- and geography-related discrimination and other forms of discrimination on a daily basis, in all parts of life – it’s no surprise to us to see that women and children are bearing the brunt of this housing crisis. It’s no surprise, but it is deeply saddening and frustrating to us. 

In fact, three of the four people seeking support from homelessness services in March this year were women or children. According to the data, women under the age of 44 need the most support when it comes to accessing secure housing. This is not because of individual deficiencies or “bad luck”, but rather because gender inequality is bone-deep in our economic system. Gender inequality is “designed into” our economic system in the way care work (still predominantly undertaken by women) is unpaid, underpaid and undervalued; in the way this unpaid care work causes gaps in the working lives and earning capacity of carers (most of them women); in the fact that a gender pay gap persists in Australia; in the way that gender-based violence exacerbates economic inequality and contributes to women’s financial insecurity. Indeed, gender-based violence is the leading driver of homelessness among women. 

Intersectionality theory also tells us that women are not just experiencing inherent gendered discrimination in our economic and housing systems. They’ll most likely be experiencing a complex interplay of discriminations because their gender intersects with other marginalised identity characteristics – their Indigenous or migrant background, disability, income status, single parenthood, for instance. 

What this means is that housing insecurity and homelessness are not just violations of the human right to housing but can also been seen as a symptom of a violation of the human right to freedom from discrimination. The fact that this discrimination is baked into our economic system, our very way of life in Australia, means that what we need is a complete overhaul of this economic system, our housing system and the cultural models and narratives that prop these up. 

It’s at this point that we itch to enter into conversation with our communities, to ask how people most impacted by the current housing crisis, and homelessness, might redesign these systems? How might we do better for each other? 

What might our economic and housing systems look like if they centered principles of care for those who are most marginalised because of their intersectional identities?  

How could we come good on the promise of housing as a human right?  

How might we foster a sense of collective responsibility for the welfare of all people, when it comes to housing?  

Does it entail shifting the narrative around what housing is and could be? And where and how can we start this work together? 

And finally, can we conceive of a community in which there is no longer a need to mark Homelessness Week? Can we conceive of communities where every person has a secure, safe, accessible, climate-safe, socially connected home, as a universal right? 

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