Rapid housing program could save lives

Deciding to leave a violent relationship can be an incredibly difficult process, but for too many women who have made the decision to leave a dangerous environment, they are very quickly confronted with a second challenge: avoiding homelessness.

Much work has been done in the past several years to improve the understanding of what constitutes family violence and empower women to leave at-risk environments where they might be subject to abuse, whether physical, emotional, financial or otherwise.

But family violence is the single biggest cause of homelessness for women and children in Victoria and the number of Victorian women seeking homelessness assistance due to family violence has increased 70 per cent in the past four years.

In 2017, the ACTU estimated that leaving a violence relationship takes on average $18,000 and 141 hours of work, to do things like finding new accommodation, legal fees and finding financial and emotional supports.

A fact-checking article in the Guardian written by University of Sydney’s policy lab confirms that it is very difficult for a woman fleeing violence to find housing, with one of the biggest factors being the low level of welfare payments, which is often insufficient to cover basic living expenses such as rent.

The articles notes the “the intersection of escaping violent relationships, needing income support and homelessness” and points out that non-Australian residents such as newly arrived migrants and New Zealand permanent residents remain particularly vulnerable.

One extremely successful tactic to rapidly rehouse victim-survivors of family violence is the Private Rental Assistance Program (PRAP). The program engages with the private rental market to secure tenancies for people at risk of homelessness, but who can sustain a private rental.

PRAP allows victim-survivors to quickly re-establish their lives after a crisis, preventing the harm caused by extended homelessness. It currently helps around 4,000 people a year, the majority of whom are escaping family violence.

PRAP was expanded in response to recommendation 18 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, which called for action to support victims of family violence to gain stable housing as quickly as possible.

It achieves the lowest cost to government per unit of accommodation of all the housing options that were funded as part of 2016’s $152 million Family Violence Housing Blitz.

But currently the program is only funded to June 2019. As part of our pre-budget submission, we are calling on the Victorian Government to re-fund the program when it hands down its budget on May 27. And other organisations, like Unison, have also added their voices to the call.

The Victorian Government cannot continue to encourage women to leave situations of family violence without adequate provision for safe and appropriate housing.