By Evelyn Leckie

A lack of affordable housing and diverse housing, and the need for more support services were recurrent issues raised at a Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness in Victoria hearing last week.

The hearing, in Epping on Thursday, heard witness submissions from professional services in the City of Whittlesea and Mitchell Shire municipalities.

Support services and council staff from both municipalities told the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Committee what they had witnessed firsthand with homelessness and housing insecurity in the area.

Whittlesea Community Connections staff said 53.8 per cent of their clients were experiencing housing stress.

The community organisation added newly-arrived migrants and women facing family violence were more commonly facing homelessness.

Community support worker Belinda Leon said it was impossible for people on Centrelink programs to afford private rentals, as welfare benefits haven’t kept up with the increased cost of living.

Equity and Impact manager Emma Antonetti said skilled migrants in the Whittlesea area were also struggling to get jobs due to language barriers.

Whittlesea Community Connections staff raised ideas to strengthen relationships with real estate agencies.

“For real estate agents it’s about pleasing the landlord and finding the best applicant,” Ms Leon said.

“We’re often calling real estate agents asking if they’re struggling to rent out any of their properties. Perhaps there could be some training around affordable housing for real estate agents.

“They’re going to have to be part of the solution.”

From a council perspective, City of Whittlesea and Mitchell Shire both raised issues of a gap in health community services.

For both growth corridors in Mitchell and Whittlesea, more than 40 per cent of residents don’t live near public transport, making the regions car-dependent and making it difficult for residents to seek help from homelessness support services.

City of Whittlesea team leader of social policy and planning Carmen Faelis and Mitchell Shire Council manager of community strengthening Jo Wilson said both growth areas were “marked out by an epidemic of invisible homelessness.”

“The median price to buy in Beveridge is $584,000. There’s a lack of housing diversity for low income earners, we’re the tenth worst for family violence rates in Victoria and the closest Orange Door service is in Shepparton,” Ms Wilson said

“We need not just more social housing, but we need wrap around services like family violence support centres and drug and alcohol services to keep people in their homes,” Ms Faeils said.

Chair of the committee Fiona Patten along with Tania Maxwell and participating members Rodney Barton and Craig Ondarchie thanked witnesses for their input.

“We’re interested in finding out about the particular challenges that are faced in supporting people who are homeless or who are facing homelessness in municipalities that cover both urban and rural areas,” Ms Patten said.

“The committee is interested in hearing how local service providers are meeting the needs of homeless people in this rapidly growing area and suggestions they have that can help inform our recommendations.”