Griffiths / The woeful world of homelessness

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This year’s CEO Sleepout… “Without wanting to be critical of the CEOs, one night safe and dry on secure tiles doesn’t begin to replicate the homelessness experience.”

LAST week saw the CEO Sleepout that again turned thoughts, momentarily, to the woeful state of our housing stock.

John Griffiths.
John Griffiths.

Without wanting to be critical of the CEOs, they are after all helping out in a way that they’ve been asked to, one night safe and dry on secure tiles doesn’t begin to replicate the homelessness experience.

For that they’d need to turn a hose on them at 3am and have the police rouse them out on to the streets, and then repeat it night after night, with no end in sight and no hope of anything better.

There are huge mental health issues surrounding the homeless on the streets of Australia, and even more so here in Canberra where, for six months, it’s far too cold to be sleeping outside for no good reason.

Beyond that, we have the problem that there’s bugger-all housing in this town for single people earning low to average incomes.

Ad hoc share housing has filled the gap with a great deal of legal uncertainty all around.

Banks at the moment won’t finance the purchase of small units, so there’s no demand for their construction, despite the rental market being white hot for granny flats.

CHC Community Housing has been experimenting with small units to their great credit, but at the moment they’re only funded for small-scale operations, the most recent being a nine-unit development.

So what does a working person want in a unit to live in?

Having been bouncing in and out of share housing for quite some time now I can tell you the answer is not much.

A room big enough for a bookshelf, a desk, and a double bed seems to be the basic required.

Access to a shelf in a fridge, a laundry and somewhere capable of basic cooking is not too much to ask.

As a nice-to-have: some decent sound insulation between units would be ideal, but with advances in noise-cancelling wireless headphones that may not be necessary.

Working people have cars, so somewhere to park the car is a must. Problematically, this might require nearly as much space as the unit to house the person.

High-speed internet is absolutely required. If we’re going to live in a rabbit hutch our minds need to roam. Fortunately, high-density housing positively lends itself to high-speed internet.

Thousands of units as described, offered at the mark of $200 a week, would be very heavily subscribed in this town.

They would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the housing stock, freeing up houses for families.

Part of the issue is that this sort of housing is unlikely to attract owner-occupiers. So we need to think of new housing models.

The ACT government already has billions of dollars in housing stock, why not invest a bit more in the bare minimum needed to keep life and limb together?

If we want to be a vibrant, innovative city it’s the sort of safety net people need.

It doesn’t have to be great, it just needs to be okay. In the process, we’d bring a lot of safety and certainty to a great number of vulnerable Canberrans.

John Griffiths is the on-line editor of

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