Each year hundreds of families are evicted from public housing rentals because of significant rent arrears. In Australia, there are 18,000 children aged 12 years and less homeless, sleeping rough. The majority of Australian households would be unaware of the extensiveness of large families homeless on our streets – sleeping in condemned squats, alleyways, parks and bushland.
For two decades I have worked closely with homeless and critically vulnerable families – the impacts of homelessness are often overwhelming, leading to a constancy of trauma and aberrant behaviours, leading to family members finishing up in the situational trauma of incarceration – from broken lives to ruined lives.
The majority of public housing evictions start with falling behind in the rent – and with large families who depend on welfare payments the accumulation of debt becomes overwhelming. Department of Housing issue breach notices, eviction warnings and hence the distress levels escalate – in some families there is a backlash – often it’s displaced anger to some family members, turning on each other. In other families they degenerate into aberrant behaviour that leads to breach notices. Subsequently, the data on evictions is masked and skewed by the compounded issues following the original issue of falling behind in the rent. For the majority the losing of their home began with falling behind in the rent.
Someone like me understands the issues faced by people living below the poverty line, I walk alongside them, having worked over the years to improve the lot of many. However we need to protect their right to a home. There is only one way to do this and that is for those on low income – and they are the most vulnerable – on welfare payments – that they compulsorily have their rent deducted fortnightly. No ifs or buts, it’s the only way to protect their right to the security of a home, of protecting their family’s wellbeing, of protecting the children from being removed, of keeping them together.
This is not ‘income management’ per se and I am not a supporter of the majority of anyone’s income in being managed by external agents but the paying of the rent ensures the human right to a home is protected.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to a home as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. There is a grim reality that the vulnerable fall behind in their rent and from there onward for the majority who fall behind in their rent they will be evicted or the pressures in dealing with the threat of eviction implode upon some family members and they breakdown and some fall into confrontation with authorities, and many do jail time.
Governments have tried punitive deterrents such as the ‘three-strike rule’ – three breaches and you’re evicted but the threats do not work. What happens is that the occupants are evicted – families of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 children have been evicted. Families with newborns have been evicted. This is my first-hand experience. Babies are born on the streets, people die on the streets – the homeless are critically vulnerable to various violence and sexual predation – to the constancy of trauma, to multiple, composite traumas, to the degeneration to aggressive complex trauma. Punitive actions lead to an increasing narrative of human misery and suffering. We have to be sensible here, in that keeping families housed – ensuring that families remain housed – by their rent deducted avoids the undermining of their right to a home.
This morning I was in the Children’s Court, with two colleagues who fought to keep children with their biological families. I looked around at the sea of families in the public areas of the Children’s Court and felt for each of them. Without a home, it’s steeply uphill in an often exhausting effort to to keep their children. It’s an expectation of the Court, that there is the security of the home, that this is a house for them to even countenance children to remain with their parents.
I am one hard core left winger – one driven by endless compassion and relentless advocacy – and one who works to improve the lot of others. I am at the coalface. I will argue with anyone, that the rent must be deducted.
During the last two years I have also watched, and been involved, in the amazing work of the First Nations Homelessness Project & Advocacy Service who have achieved a thus far 100 per cent record in preventing child removals and a 100 per cent record in preventing evictions. But the amount of time and energy they spend, as I have for more than a decade, in resolving eviction orders are significant. The FNHPAS does incredible never-before-seen work in working with families psychosocially, to spread the love, to improve their wellbeing, in working alongside them to positive selves and positive future building. They should not be spending so much of their valuable time and energy on fighting evictions due to rent owed. Having the rent compulsorily deducted can sort all this. Rent has to be paid, so then what’s the issue? Right mindedness needs to prevail. As someone who is a trauma researcher and someone who works at the coalface, it is without question a fact that the rent being paid on time by a fixed mechanism reduces distress levels. It is peace of mind.
Some argue that it is a basic right for everyone to manage, without intrusion, their financial affairs. It is also agreed that there is a must-do right to a home. It should be obvious which of these rights must be inalienable.
It is not a human right to get your family evicted.
– Gerry Georgatos is a leading researcher and advocate in suicide prevention, prison to wellbeing to education and work and has worked with the homeless and vulnerable families for more than two decades. He has worked with thousands of critically vulnerable individuals.