Hidden poverty on the rise in Australia’s most liveable city

In the space of two years, the number of homeless people on the streets of Melbourne has increased by a phenomenal 74%, according to a 2016 study by the City of Melbourne. Homelessness is on the rise, and this is evident by the increasing number of rough sleepers around the city’s major landmarks. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg according to Monash University senior lecturer, Dr Steven Roberts.

For the last 6 years, Melbourne has been crowned The Economist’s worlds most liveable city.  Extraordinarily diverse and lively, Melbourne boasts everything from a strong sports culture and fantastic night life, to a cutting edge art scene, and of course, internationally regarded food and coffee.

However, an increase in popularity has come with an increase in rental prices, meaning that many Melbournian’s have been left out of pocket or worse, pushed out of their homes. According to new reports, poverty levels are continuing to grow year on year as rental prices soar, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet.

Property prices in Melbourne are at an all time high. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Dr Roberts argues that the nature of poverty is changing and that this is reflected by the growing need for the use of food banks in Melbourne.

“Most of the research done on poverty and homelessness concentrates only on the visible homelessness that we see in terms of rough sleepers on the street. It’s not just homeless people on the streets, lot’s of people will be in work and simultaneously in poverty and hence have to use food banks or rely on insecure housing like room sharing or couch surfing. Increasingly this includes people in work. The evidence is in the rising number of working people using food banks,” he told The Yarra Reporter.

Homelessness in Melbourne increased by 74% from 2014 to 2016. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Sandy Dudakov, vice president of the Abbotsford based food charity FareShare, agreed that hidden poverty is a growing problem and that an increasing number of working people are turning to food banks to feed their families.

“It’s the working people who are now struggling. Rent prices are going up and this is taking its toll on [every day] people, it’s these people who we see increasingly using food banks, and they are generally very embarrassed to do so,” she told The Yarra Reporter.

The FareShare headquarters in Abbotsford. Photo: Deniz Karaman

Fare Share initially started as an eco-friendly endeavour which sought to rescue food that would otherwise be wasted. Today, they provide thousands of meals per week to a number of charities and food banks across Melbourne who then distribute them to struggling families and homeless people.

“There has been a significant increase in the demand for food since the Global Financial Crisis. We continue to increase the number of meals we make, and every week, every single piece of food made is given out. None of it is wasted.”

“If we were to make more food it would be distributed as the demand is there. People are mistaken in thinking that poverty is solely restricted to the homeless people that we see sleeping rough, it goes beyond that,” Sandy said.

According to Victoria’s last rental report from March 2017, median rent levels in Melbourne revealed an annual increase of 3.8%. In addition to this, recent evidence shows that an increasing number of Australian’s – 33.4% in 2013 compared to 27% in 1994- are in long term rental rather than buying their own properties.

This is likely to be in correlation with the increase in property prices, where the average house price is now at a record high of $826,000, reflecting the strongest quarterly growth since 2013.

A report by NATSEM found that 39% of working families with children under the ages of 15 are faced with unaffordable mortgage and rental costs, leaving little money for food, and has resulted in rising levels of poverty. The increase in prices for both renting and buying has made it harder for families to afford housing, contributing to a wider issue of financial hardship that has pushed increased numbers of people to use food banks and into insecure housing.

Poverty in Melbourne goes beyond what the eye can see, and now incorporates a number of working people and even school children.

“The qualitative research I’ve done in Boorondara shows that school kids are couch surfing more often than people perhaps realise,” said Dr Roberts.

Click here for more information on financial support services for those who are experiencing financial hardship.

Written by Deniz Karaman

Most vulnerable to be targeted in proposed rough sleeping ban

It was a packed room on Friday evening, March 17, at Melbourne’s Multicultural Hub as a public forum was held to discuss the implications of the Melbourne City Council’s proposed ban on rough sleeping in the CBD.

The changes to the bylaws, proposed by Lord Mayer Robert Doyle, follow increased pressure on Victoria Police to take control of the streets in the CBD.

Moderator, Dr Louise Johnson, Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University, opened the forum with a brief overview of the issue, saying that the ban was “more formally triggered by the police who basically say ‘we do not have enough regulations to clean up the streets’, meaning we do not have enough power to move those who are homeless off our streets.”

Although the changes to the bylaws propose banning all forms of camping in the city and enforce penalties, studies suggest that the most vulnerable will be targeted.

Panelist, Dr David Boarder Giles, Lecturer in Anthropology at Deakin University, has been examining the way these types of laws play out in cities around the world.

“These types of laws are never applied uniformly to the whole population.”

“We’ve got plenty of evidence to support the assertion that the people who will be fined the most are the most vulnerable people,” he said.

The ban has also triggered concern from UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha.

”The criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law. It’s bad enough that homeless people are being swept off the streets by city officials. The proposed law goes further and is discriminatory – stopping people from engaging in life sustaining activities, and penalising them because they are poor and have no place to live,” she said in a press release issued from Geneva.

The forum was convened to coincide with the end date of written public submissions to the Victorian Government, with the intention of pushing council members to vote against the changes.

But Spike, also on the panel, who has personally experienced homelessness over a span of 17 years, is outraged that the community has to convince the government to oppose the changes.

“They’re stealing what is ours, It belongs to us and we should be pissed,” he said.

“Why aren’t people freaked out that it’s going to be illegal to sleep on a footpath. Since when has social cleansing been acceptable?” said Spike.

With minimal public discussion on the matter, the forum provided a range of perspectives from speakers in legal advocacy, government, research, and people who have personally experienced homelessness.

For more information on the ban or to attend a #nohomelessban meeting at Trades Hall on Thursdays, head to Facebook and follow the Homeless Persons Union of Victoria.

Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald

A push for safer workplaces for LGBTI


On Thursday February 2, the Fitzroy Town Hall was transformed into a discussion room for community members, business leaders and LGBTIQ activists to advocate for equality within workplaces across Victoria.

With many issues raised over the course of the night, the prospect that everybody should feel comfortable and empowered in their workplace was at the core.

The event, put on by The Yarra City Council and Polykala, was part of the launch for a new collaborative project, Working With Pride – a leadership program designed to encourage managers and emerging leaders to create a fair and inclusive workplace environment.

The launch presented a panel of LGBTIQ activists and spokespeople answering questions from Budi Sudarto, as well as an improvised interpretive dance by Melbourne Playback, encapsulating the stories of individuals in the room.

Melbourne Playback provided entertainment for the launch night.

On the panel, co-founder of Streat Cafe, Bec Scott said, “it’s critical for everyone to feel inclusive, but not just for queer young people, for everyone. All of us want to work somewhere where we are recognised for who we are, we’re celebrated for who we are, and we do our best work under those conditions.”

Scott’s organisation Streat runs a series of cafes employing young people in the LGBTI community who are disadvantaged or homeless, some due to abandonment after coming out to their families.

Brenda Appleton, assigned male at birth and transitioned 16 years ago, said, “I’m happy to now be talking about what it is like to be your real self in the workplace, it’s so important.”

Appleton has also made history as the first trans co-chair of an advisory group to any government in Australia.

Additional panelists included Rowena (Ro) Allen – the Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, and Jason Ball – The 2017 Victorian Young Australian of the Year for his work with the LGTBIQ community in sport.

Despite some organisations doing their part to be inclusive, Appleton discussed studies suggesting that up to 60% of LGBTI people are still not comfortable to be open about their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace.

“In the trans-gender community, 42% of us attempt suicide at some stage in our lives. It’s not easy being yourself when yourself doesn’t meet societies expectations,” Appleton said.

Ball, who is also an ambassador for Beyond Blue said this negative attitude very much translates into sporting clubs.

“The LGBTI community [is] very much over-represented when it comes to negative outcomes and sport, in particular, is an environment where the LGBTI community doesn’t feel safe, welcome and included,” he said.

Working with grassroots football leagues and the AFL, Ball has seen more LGBTI inclusion and acceptance from when he was younger.

Growing up in a small town, he always thought his local football club of Yarra Glenn would be the one place that he wouldn’t be able to come out.

“As a result of homophobic language not only used but seen as acceptable, seen as part of the game,” he said.

“It’s a small community, everyone knows everyone’s business, so the fear that if there’s a negative reaction to who you are, can really cost you everything.”

After coming out, Ball realised, “a lot of the homophobic language from my teammates was coming from a place of ignorance as opposed to a place of hatred and callus towards people who are gay.”

The Yarra Glenn Football Club has since founded the Pride Cup. Initiated in 2014, the cup celebrates diversity and inclusion with the 50-metre line painted a rainbow and incorporates education for footballers about LGBTI inclusion.

Inspired by the Pride Cup, the St Kilda Football Club and the Sydney Football Club hosted the Pride Game last year, played at Etihad Stadium.

Panellist Ro Allen has seen the negative impact of workplace inequality in rural communities and is fighting for education on LGBTI inclusion to disseminate past city boundaries.

“We need to make sure, not just the Melbourne bubble, but all of Victoria is a safe place,” Allen said.

Allen has met with CEO’s of many major companies and believes there are some champions out there willing to get the ball rolling.

“It’s easy to be the second or third company, but it’s hard to be the first one to set up a pride network.”

When it comes to the government, Allen has already brought about massive change.

“I’m very proud to say all of the eight departments within the Victorian government signed up to Pride in Diversity; every single department has a pride network,” she said.

Pride in Diversity is a national not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion, that has published the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI), setting national standards for workplace policies and procedures surrounding LGBTI inclusion.

Whilst this may be a great stepping stone in the right direction, all panelists believe there is more to be done, and education is vital.


Panelists on the night were (from left) Bec Scott, Ro Allen, Brenda Appleton and Jason Ball.

“A lot of what we encounter is fear of the unknown rather than rejection of trans and gender diverse and LGBTI people,” Appleton said.

“If we can remove that fear, if we can provide knowledge and understanding then I think we [can] open the conversation.”

The panelists ended the night on a positive note, agreeing that the power of allies, personal stories and empathy can go a long way.

“I grew up in the most homophobic environment with a dad who, in the 80’s [would scream] at the TV ‘that’s death for all faggots thank goodness’,” Scott said.

“But my dad would be one of the greatest allies we’ve got now for queers.”

“Yes we can change the big policy settings and there’s a lot of things that are broken and need to be fixed, but for me, it’s all of those moments of kindness that matter most.”

Written By Caitlyn Leggett


Challenging perceptions of homelessness one Q&A event at a time

Homelessness is more than just sleeping rough. It’s a circumstance that affects around 22,000 Victorians on any given night. And with more than 32,000 Victorians on the public housing waiting list, members of Homeless Persons Union Victoria (HPUV) are pushing for solutions.

The Homelessness can happen to anyone Q&A event was hosted by HPUV at the Richmond Town Hall earlier in the month. It brought together a varied panel of experts, including academics, current and former homeless individuals and activists, to discuss the growing problem of homelessness.

[The media] take snapshots of people at their worst moments and that is a real problem as far as we’re concerned.”

The panel discussion was led by Joel Byron and Spike, two founding members of HPUV, with a focus on challenging perceptions beyond media headlines.

“Media representations of homeless people are going unchallenged,” says Spike. “The media isn’t the be-all and end-all of where information comes from. They don’t investigate the lack of funding in public housing or the causal factors of homelessness. They take snapshots of people at their worst moments and that is a real problem as far as we’re concerned.”

Photo Courtesy of Dissident Media
Photo Courtesy of Dissident Media

Panelist and media analyst, Catherine Beadnell, agrees that “it’s important to put pressure on [the media] to take a more humane and investigative approach to homelessness. [However], because [the media] doesn’t operate in an economic imperative they’re not really interested in exploring that.”

RMIT Associate professor, Guy Johnson, also took part in the discussion, highlighting the biggest protective factor against homelessness is not services, but public housing.

“We’re talking about an issue that is so important, but is just blatantly ignored by politicians from both sides, and now public housing is dead.”

Policy change has seen a decrease in available public housing over the last decade, which Johnson says has contributed to the rise in homelessness.

“The best protection against homelessness is the thing that there is no policy attention on.”

The factors associated with homelessness are wide ranging and can include domestic violence, mental health issues, and substance abuse problems.

Although providing stable accomodation may not immediately erase all associated factors, it certainly will address the problem of homelessness itself.

“You put a homeless person in an empty house … problem solved.” says a member of HPUV currently experiencing homelessness.

In an immersive discussion between the panel and the audience, additional topics on the night included the importance of campaigning for public housing, distribution of resources, the issue of access to public amenities and safe injecting rooms, the role of homelessness services, harm reduction funding and substance use.

For more information on the Homeless Persons Union Victoria or to join the union visit their Facebook page.

By Roxanne Fitzgerald