By Derek Schlennstedt
Housing ends homelessness.
That was the topic discussed at the launch of the Yarra Ranges Homelessness week on Monday 5 August.
Holy Fools and Anchor organised the event at Melba Park in Lilydale, two agencies which support homeless and at-risk people in the Yarra Ranges.
Speaking at the event, Holy Fools CEO Neal Taylor said that this event had been their biggest in recent history and aimed to raise awareness of homelessness.
“This is the culmination of many hours, but the idea has always come from homelessness Australia and this year’s theme is housing ends homelessness – we would amend that with saying affordable housing ends homelessness,” he said.
“The idea this year is we are here in the park and we want to do a number of activities to promote and really get that message home.
“Each night we’re going to have fireside chats and each one will have a different theme and speaker.
“On Wednesday, we’re going to be doing something we’ve never done before, which is running a memorial service for those who have passed in this area from homelessness.”
The launch coincided with Yarra Ranges Councillor Tim Heenan’s 11th year sleeping in a cardboard box.
He started the challenge in 2008 and although he’s now aged 60, Cr Heenan said he would continue to participate for as long as necessary.
“I want to stop when we have a drop-in centre or Lilydale lounge when it’s built,” he said.
“I hope I can keep going on the commitment, but it’s getting harder.
“When I started this it was 11 years ago and I’m nearly 61.
“I can go home to my bed at the end of 10 days.
“Some people have to deal with 365 nights and not only find shelter, but have to feel safe.”
Speaking at the launch, Anchor representative Mark Lamont addressed the issue of affordable housing in the outer east, and said the trend of older women becoming homeless was expected to continue unless social housing provision was expanded.
“We have seen an increase in families and mums with dependent children coming through and wanting assistance,” he said.
“The eastern region has the highest rate of domestic and family violence in the state.
“The average state figure is around 35 per cent. From what we are seeing it’s 48 per cent in the eastern region.
“This trend will continue unless they are addressed.”
As part of National Homelessness Week (4 to 10 August), Holy Fools will hold a variety of events at 33 Market Street, Lilydale.
Every evening from 7pm there is a fireside chat with a guest speaker.
Although Mr Taylor conceded there was still a lot of work needed to improve the state of homelessness in the Yarra Ranges, he said there had been a lot of positive change.
“Holy Fools is 10 years old in October and over the last 10 years we’ve seen enormous change in the Yarra Ranges – in particular in homelessness and housing,” he said.
“Ten years ago we would never had this many people sitting here wanting to hear about homelessness…never had the council acknowledging what was going on…so we’ve come a long way.”