Another new suburb is opening in Melbourne. Its vast former farming lands will stretch the boundaries of our city once more. People slept in their cars over night to be first in line to buy empty blocks, just one more sign of the desperation felt by many who cannot afford housing in our wonderful city. But amazingly, there were also a good percentage of investors queuing up for the new blocks. One man and his wife were there to buy what will become their twelfth investment property.
So, where does this leave people who are yet to own their own home? With housing prices going through the roof, it is becoming more and more difficult to even save the deposit in order to buy a home. It is estimated that it will take couples at least five years to save for a deposit for a home in one of the outer suburbs. At least ten years to save for a deposit for a home closer to the city. I guess it would take even longer for single people to save.
Rents are sky rocketing and there is a distinct lack of social housing. More and more people are sleeping in their cars, couch surfing or taking to the streets. These are the new houseless members of our society. Why do we tolerate this? By the same token, Melbourne’s boundaries can only be stretched so far before the effects are felt with a lack of infrastructure, leaving these new suburbs in a state of disconnect from the rest of the city.
According to the website www.homeless.org.au, homelessness is defined as: 'An inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community,' (Dominic Mapstone). This fact is now recognized by Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
Until I looked it up I didn’t realise there was a difference between homelessness and houselessness. Reading through the website it appears that homelessness is more about social connectivity and feeling a part of something, more than actually not having a roof above one’s head. There have been instances of people refusing shelter simply because the shelter offered is not in the geographic area that they consider themselves to be part of. And there are instances of people having shelter, but ending up on the streets because they are lonely in their accommodation and all their friends are still on the streets.
Of course there is also the matter of safety in some of our rooming houses and shelters. I’ve heard many stories of women and children dealing with environments that we wouldn’t want our animals to live in, let alone other human beings. There are corrupt and greedy landlords everywhere, but apparently there are more than enough of them preying on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
So what is the answer to both homelessness and houselessness? How do we prevent people suffering from loneliness and a lack of social connection? Will the same feeling prevail in our new distant suburbs, where people will be left in nice houses in the middle of nowhere, with little public transport? Have we not only created a society of haves and have nots, but also a society where the privileged are also geographically better off?