Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (16:04): I rise to give some weight to the Combined Agencies Network committee in my electorate, who have written to me to express their very grave concerns about the welfare of their clients. These agencies include Lifeline South East, Uniting Care, Community Transitions, Vinnies, Anglican Church Mount Gambier, ac.care, Salvation Army, Foodbank and the Sunset Community Kitchen.
The committee, which consists of representatives from each agency, meets on the second Tuesday of each month to work collaboratively, supporting one another to consistently serve those in our community who are poor, needy and marginalised. They are seeking my support to bring their concerns to the attention of the Premier of South Australia, Mr Steven Marshall, and the Liberal state government.
At our meeting on Tuesday 9 March 2021, each representative reported that their agency is experiencing an increase in the number of people who are homeless and those who are accessing their services. They are very worried about the lack of affordable, safe and emergency housing for their clients. Emergency accommodation can mean temporary motel/caravan park accommodation, couch surfing, sleeping in a vehicle, sleeping outdoors in a tent or sleeping rough outdoors. Women are being housed in tents when no other properties are available, which is a huge risk to their personal safety. Single males also have an issue with accessing affordable rental properties. More community and social housing is desperately needed.
The members of the Combined Agencies Network would like to inform that some of the reasons for their clients needing emergency accommodation are lack of housing/affordable housing, fleeing domestic violence, unemployment poverty, mental illness and a lack of support services, and substance abuse and a lack of those services.
Currently in the Limestone Coast area, rental prices have increased exponentially. Real estate agents confirm applications for every property far outnumber the properties available. Single adults without children who are on JobKeeper do not have affordability to rent housing in addition to paying for utilities, food and other living expenses. Social isolation, which is a result of homelessness and poverty, increases mental health decline and self-medication. Also, in our area, mental health support and drug/substance abuse support are insufficient to the need.
We agree completely with ac.care's CEO, Mr Shane Maddocks, and the manager of Homelessness Services, Ms Trish Spark. They have reported:
The issues we are increasingly seeing with rent stress and housing affordability pushing people to the brink of homelessness require a whole of community approach to advocate for greater attention from government and development of long-term solutions to increase support and housing availability for vulnerable people in regional South Australia.
They report that requests for accommodation have risen by 30 per cent in the past few months.
Salvation Army and Lifeline South East financial counsellors have also reported that availability and affordability of rental properties are continued concerns for their clients. Clients identifying with Centrelink and those on low incomes are having difficulty with securing rental accommodation due to lack of availability, rental history and affordability. There are long waits for Housing SA category 1 rentals for single females with children. An example of this is that a client was told they were on category 1 for public rental and on top of the list. They are still waiting for a property 12 months later. All attempts to secure private rental have been unsuccessful.
Agency members are very concerned that, along with the lack of mental health and substance abuse support services, their clients' woes will be compounded once JobSeeker payments decrease at the end of March. The revised payment, even with a $50 increase in the former Newstart payment, will destine people to try to manage on a payment that is a long way below the poverty line.
We implore the South Australian Liberal government to advocate for a long-term increase in JobSeeker to a level that is sustainable and allows people opportunities to afford basic necessities and climb out of poverty. They also asked me, as their local member, to help raise this issue with the state government to increase its spending on social housing. More investment in this area will not only help our clients but also provide an economic stimulus as well as meeting a vital need going forward.