Peter Khalil paid a visit to a local youth refuge run by Hope Street Youth and Family Services on Tuesday 14 May, just days out from the federal election.
Hope Street invited Peter to the refuge as part of Everybody's Home, a campaign that unites the not for profit housing, homelessness and community sectors with the nation's largest charities in calling for leaders to fix Australia's housing system so that everybody has a home.
Peter, who grew up in commission housing, spent time hearing from three young people about their experiences of homelessness. He also chatted with Donna Bennett, Chief Executive Officer of Hope Street, and Martha Haylett, Manager of Policy and Communications at VPTA (Victorian Public Tenants Association) about homelessness and the housing crisis in the Wills electorate.
In the Wills electorate:
- 770 people are homeless
- 6,848 households (28% of renters) are in rental stress
- Rental stress has increased by 8% since 2011
- There are 3200 people on the social housing waiting list (second highest waiting list in Victoria)
The Hope Street refuge, which has been in operation since 1981 and provides accommodation for 10 young people at a time, is the only supported crisis accommodation centre for young people and young families in the northern suburbs.
Peter Khalil encouraged the young people and thanked them for sharing their stories with him. "I grew up in a housing commission, so I know how important it is to have a safe place to call home – a base from which you can take opportunities when they come to you," he said. He confirmed the ALP's plans to introduce a national Housing and Homelessness Minister and a national strategy to tackle issues of housing stress and homelessness.
Peter thanked Hope Street for the contribution it's making to young people who are experiencing homelessness. "I think the work you do is fantastic. I know how difficult it must be, but what you do is amazing… you don't give up on people and you give them hope when they really need it," he said.
Whitney, a 24 year old mother and current Hope Street client, spoke about the importance of having hope. "When we're homeless we can sit there and just give up on ourselves. We just need that one person who won't give up on us, who will show us that there is hope for our future and that we can overcome what we're going through," she said. All three young people spoke about how Hope Street had given them a place to call home, and the hope they needed to turn their lives around.
Donna Bennett, Hope Street's CEO, emphasized the need for a serious injection of public funds into social housing options that young people can afford. "We urgently need social housing options that are quarantined specifically for young people, at rents they can afford on their very low incomes. If we can't do this, then young people will continue to fall through the gaps and the numbers of young people experiencing extended periods of homelessness will continue to grow," said Ms Bennett.
Peter, Martha, Donna and the young people also discussed the need for a bigger investment into youth mental health services, the need for governments to ensure they are using current statistics on housing stress and homelessness when calculating budgets, and the need for more and better housing options for low income earners right along the spectrum from crisis accommodation, to transitional housing, to social housing.