First Nations housing stock ’needed yesterday’

Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Peter Webster and his daughter Lucy Webster. (Damjan Janevski) 287600_01

Liam McNally

Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation in Melton is seeing as many as 12 people a week seeking housing support, as community groups call on the government to address First Nations homelessness state-wide.

Kirrip Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Peter Webster said that Aboriginal homelessness in the western suburbs is “very high”.

“There’s been a lot more, particularly we’ve noticed since the start of this year we’ve seen a huge increase… it’s a daily occurrence,” he said.

“Even the Salvation Army has been amazed at the number of clients we’ve been able to send through to them.”

Mr Webster said the current system has “holes” that people fall through.

He gave an example of a pregnant woman who had come to Kirrip while she was living in her car, but she was unable to be helped because her Centrelink payments were too low to set her up in a rental, and there was no supply of social housing.

Mr Webster said Kirrip had made a submission to the state government in 2020 for $250,000 to procure eight emergency rentals, where staff would assist with a range of services to help people get on their feet, and eventually have a rental in their name, but the application was rejected.

“There’s just not enough housing around for them. There’s not enough funding,” Mr Webster said.

Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) said in a statement that census data shows First Nations homelessness increased by more than 40 percent in Victoria between 2016 and 2021.

On census night, 1109 First Nations Victorians identified as homeless, up from 783 in 2016.

AHV chief executive Darren Smith said that census data doesn’t capture the “full extent” of homelessness.

“These tip-of-the-iceberg figures show us how decades of housing inaction in Victoria cost First Nations people,” he said.

AHV is calling on the state government to build 300 houses a year for First Nations people and to implement the Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness forum’s Blueprint for a First-Nations specific homelessness system.

“We need First Nations-owned housing stock and we needed it yesterday. A lack of safe and secure housing further entrenches the inequalities faced by First Nations people in Victoria in the long term,” Mr Smith said.