People’s Commission into Homelessness

People's Commission into Homelessness

Have you heard of Everybody’s Home? It’s a national campaign that’s aimed at fixing the housing crisis in Australia. It’s organised on behalf of homelessness and welfare organisations, including: National Shelter, Mission Australia, Shelter NSW, Tenants Union of NSW and Homelessness Australia, among numerous others.

Why is there a housing crisis in the first place?

“Fundamentally, the only way to make housing more affordable is to build more of it where people want to live. And arguably, we haven’t been doing enough of that. That’s part of why housing is expensive in some parts of Australia,”

Proptrack, Real Estate Appraiser in Sydney

A timeline of how the housing crisis occurred in Australia:

(According to ‘Forbes Advisor‘)

  • High levels of home ownership after World War II, due to low land prices.
  • World War II price controls on land and rents cease.
  • Land close to Australia’s city centres becomes more scarce.
  • Price rises average three to four per cent over the 1950 – 1980’s.
  • Deregulation of the financial sector during the 1980’s results in increased competition, low inflation, low interest rates.
  • Demand increases for property in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
  • Introduction of tax concessions on property investment in the 1980’s in the form of negative gearing, capital gains tax exemptions and interest deductibility results in increased demand for home lending.
  • Migration increases the Australian population to 26 million between 2000 – 2024.
  • Shortage of land suitable for residential housing becomes apparent.
  • Federal governments respond to first home buyers being ‘locked out of the property market’ by offering initiatives like the First Home Buyer Scheme. Some experts believe these have made housing more expensive, as they boost demand further.

National Conversation about the Housing Crisis

The 500 organisational supporters of Everybody’s Home are seeking to hold a People’s Commission into Homelessness, where individuals and organisations across Australia can contribute to a national conversation about the housing crisis, its impacts and what can be done to fix it. They are encouraging all people to share their story about how the housing crisis is affecting them and their community.

It will refer to:

  1. The experiences of people struggling to access affordable and suitable housing.
  2. The flow-on impacts of the housing crisis.
  3. The impacts of current policy settings on housing affordability and access to housing.
  4. Actions that can be taken by governments to improve affordability and access to housing

What happens next?

The Everybody’s Home Commissioners will review submissions between now and May 2024 and draft a report summarising the key findings.

The Commissioners are:

  • Doug Cameron, a former trade unionist and Senator for New South Wales with the Australian Labor Party.
  • Professor Nicole Curran – Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney, where she directs the University’s Henry Halloran Research Trust. 

The Commission will then culminate in a series of in-person hearings, where members of the community will be invited to share their story directly with Commissioners and the media. 

Dr Sophie Scamps’ People’s Jury on Housing

With the same theme in mind, in June 2024, Dr. Sophie Scamps, Independent Federal Member for Mackellar will be hosting a People’s Jury on Housing to find solutions to the housing crisis that will work for Mackellar on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

The People’s Jury is a group of citizens invited to form a jury, who will spend a day deliberating on the housing crisis from many perspectives, with the aim being to come up with three policy priorities that Dr. Sophie Scamps can advocate for in Canberra. Dr. Sophie Scamps is working in partnership with The newDemocracy Foundation, a not for profit research organisation that promotes community participation in politics.

The panel presentation by the People’s Jury on Housing will be presented online on Saturday June 15.

How to fix the housing crisis?

According to the organisers of the Everybody’s Home campaign, there are simple things that the Federal Government can do to make our housing system work for everybody:

  • Wind back the tax concessions for investors.
  • Improve the affordability and availability of rental properties by supporting the creation of 500,000 properties for people on low and middle incomes.
  • Create long term security for renters.
  • Ease rental stress by increasing rent assistance.
  • Commit to ending homelessness by providing preventative and rapid homelessness support when people in need lose their homes.

The Everybody’s Home campaign advocates for social and affordable housing, as both forms help to address the housing crisis and create a more equitable and inclusive society.

The federal government’s Housing Accord (signed between federal and state governments last year), aims to construct one million new homes over five years from 2024, by using private capital, including superannuation funds.

It is aiming to build 30,000 new social and affordable rental homes over five years by establishing a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund.

Meet Rae, our Education Specialist…

Education Specialist, Rae Usman, at The Burdekin Association's Learning Space

Rae Usman is a one-of-a kind. A qualified teacher, she also has extensive experience in the recruitment industry, where she provided careers guidance and resumé building opportunities. The combination of these skills has meant that she is able to comprehensively support the young people who come to her at The Burdekin Association’s Learning Space at Addi Road Community Organisation in Marrickville.

69 per cent of the children and young people who come to The Burdekin Association are unable to attend or participate effectively in learning provided through the Department of Education, due to their unique personal situations.

Rae Usman’s knowledge of positive psychology – derived from working with students at a hospital – has informed her teaching practice at The Burdekin Association’s Learning Space.

Her approach is based on the idea that the wellbeing of the young people comes first. It means that she meets each child where they are on the learning continuum and does her best to foster a positive learning environment.

“Research indicates and my experience has revealed, that if we don’t look after the child’s wellbeing first, then it makes it very difficult for learning to occur.”

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

Social – emotional learning (SEL) needs are high on the agenda for young people attending the Learning Space. They often find it hard to self regulate, have poor self perceptions of themselves, which feeds into incorrect assumptions about themselves. They may say things, like “I’m dumb, I can’t do it”. Rae tries to flip the script for them by teaching them a positive sense of self, promoting healthy relationships, and building capacity to manage behaviours, emotions and interactions with others.

The Learning Space at The Burdekin Association, Addi Road Community Organisation, Marrickville.

The Learning Space at Addi Road Community Organisation in Marrickville.

Advocating for the young people is part of Rae’s role. Her main goal is to transition the young people back to their home school by building their confidence to return or supporting them into an alternative school or educational pathway.

Unfortunately, young people with unmet literacy needs are likely to have low educational attainment, earn less income and are more likely to be unemployed.

Trauma informed training helps…

“Sometimes the young people have learning difficulties that have been undiagnosed, or they struggle to learn. The impact of trauma can lead to a range of behaviours and complexities which present in learning environments.”

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

Rae has completed trauma informed training with The Burdekin Association, which she has found to be valuable in assisting her to recognise the needs in the young people in our care.

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

Rae Usman, outside the Learning Space at Addi Road Community Organisation

She knows to look outside of the behaviour that would typically attract a comment of ‘what is wrong with them?’, but rather Rae looks beyond the behaviours and through trauma lens and attempts to determine what she can do to better support the young person to learn.

Rae tries to develop strategies for each of the young people she sees by using a resilience meter and/or an emotional wheel for when they attend that day. She asks them to mark or point to how they are feeling, so she can then gauge where is the best place to start the lesson on that day.

“They might tell me that they are feeling stressed or they may display some characteristics of hypervigilance, so we’ll do some calming activities before we get into the learning. If they’re feeling sad or in a low mood, we may need to play music or a game together. The game may incorporate numeracy or literacy and I can witness their literacy and numeracy skills in action. Most kids like a game. It doesn’t matter their age.”

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

Age range of attending students…

Rae typically sees young people aged between 12 and 18 years of age for one hour to three hours at a time. Predominantly it’s the Year 9, 14-15 years age bracket that she sees most.

“Of all the year groups at high school, Year 9 is the pointy end. The young people have a lot happening at this age, they are going through physical, emotional, social and cognitive changes which can have implications with how they engage at school,” Rae said.

“Evidence has shown that Year 9 is the time when young people typically tend to disengage from school, they may no longer see school as important or feel like they don’t have the academic skills to continue. So, I thought if The Burdekin Association implements some preventative measures, particularly with some of our younger children we may catch them before this becomes an issue. As a result, we will have after school hours tutors who will be able to provide extra literacy and numeracy support and build on these vital foundation skills our young people often miss out on.”

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

Last year, Rae supported a young person with ADHD and dyslexia undertake their Year 11 studies. A learning support team came out from Sydney Distance Education, and they discussed with Rae how as a team they could all support this student. The young person came three times a week, Rae acted as scribe for them and they participated in online Zoom meetings, completed assessments and tests and overall had a positive outcome which would not have otherwise happened.

Young people’s life and social skills are an important consideration for Rae. The students participate in activities such as cooking, going to the local food co-op to purchase food, have discussions about sustainability and visit the local community garden, along with assisting with caring for the therapy pet, Toothless.

“I think it’s important that the young people don’t see the world as big and scary, but it’s somewhere that they can navigate. I know that our wonderful Burdekin Team do the same thing. It’s great that I can reinforce the great work all of our staff do with our young people.”

Rae Usman, Education Specialist at The Burdekin Association

The difference education makes…

Boy seeking help while learning on a computer. An Education Specialist with The Burdekin Association could help him.

“One in every five children in Australia are not completing their full 13 years of basic education,” stated the ABC News on Tuesday February 6, reporting on the Productivity Commission’s 2024 Report on Government Services.

“The dropout rate of students has reached a 10-year-high with just over half of all young Australians leaving school to participate in further education or enter full-time work,” the article continues.

The Productivity Commission’s Report outlines that in 2023 across all schools, “attendance rates decreased from 89.2 per cent in Year 7 to 84.5 per cent in Year 10. For Years 7–10, attendance rates are higher at non‑government schools (89.8 per cent) than government schools (84.0 per cent).”

Poor student attendance has been related to poor student outcomes, particularly once the patterns of non-attendance are established.

In addition to student retention, student engagement at school was measured and determined. There are significant measures of a student’s engagement as school –

  • behavioural engagement – school attendance, attainment and retention.
  • emotional engagement – students’ attitudes to learning and school.
  • cognitive engagement – students’ perception of intellectual challenge, effort or interest and motivation.

Students’ engagement at school is measured using data on emotional engagement – students’ sense of belonging at school. Higher or increasing scores on the index of sense of belonging at school is desirable.

Research suggests that students with a positive sense of belonging are more likely to stay in school longer, have less absenteeism and higher academic outcomes. Students who have a high sense of belonging in school generally put in more effort and are more motivated at school.

NSW Government’s ‘Support Students Sense of Belonging’

“Across the three literacy domains, the proportions of Australian 15-year-old students who achieved at or above the national proficient standard in 2022 were significantly lower than the proportions in 2018 for mathematics literacy, but similar to the proportions in 2018 for reading literacy and scientific literacy,” the 2024 Productivity Commission Report on Government Services stated.

An Education Specialist helping teenagers to learn.

The Burdekin Difference

Australian schooling aims for all young Australians to become successful lifelong learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed members of the community, positioning them to transition to further study or work and successful lives. It aims for students to improve academic achievement and excel by international standards.

Yet, 69 per cent of the children and young people who come to The Burdekin Association are unable to participate effectively in learning provided through the education department, due to their personal situations.

Many of the young people who come to The Burdekin Association did not attend sufficient schooling in their formative years. As a result, they have low literacy and low self esteem and need to cope with the challenges that caused their situation in the first place, such as family conflict or mental health issues.

When these children and young people attend school, the environment can become hostile or perceived to be hostile, they may become ostracized and/or bullied, partly because of their negative expectations and because they have fallen behind so much.

The Burdekin Association began addressing this gap in educational outcomes three years ago, by starting an Education Program and hiring teachers to work directly with our young people. Over the last three years, we have seen this program grow due to the demand and need.

Last year, The Burdekin Association was successful in securing very generous funding through the Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies Education Grant to boost our Education Program.

We now employ two Education Specialists – Sarah Haywood and Rae Usman, our Primary Educator – to support children and young people in our Out-of-Home Care program and disadvantaged (yet engaged) young people in our other programs.

Our Education Specialists provide:

  • Timetabled one-on-one teaching/assessment with children and young people (12-18) who previously were disengaged with school for extended periods of time.
  • Development of a Homework Plan. Development of an At Home Learning Plan.
  • Advocacy for the young person to get into their local high school.
  • Advocacy and support for the young person at TAFE.
  • Engagement, advocacy, and support for three Individual Education Plans for school based meetings.
  • Tutors (who are hired and matched with the young people) to assist them with their learning.

The Education Specialists advocate with schools, collaborate with young people and staff, and support children and young people in our care both across the Inner West and Northern Sydney regions.

To find out more, click here.

Financial distress in Australian households

An empty wallet

Do you feel your finances are stretched more than ever? You’re not alone.

Many of us are noticing that we’re trying to stretch our finances further than ever before. With living costs on the climb, it’s an everyday reality that’s biting into our budgets. From groceries to fuel – we’re feeling the impact. 

Cost of living, inflation pressures and rising rental stress are pushing more people into homelessness at a time when there’s very limited availability of affordable homes to rent,” says Sharon Mallister, CEO of Mission Australia.

Sharon Callister, CEO of Mission Australia.

Two in five households that receive CRA experience rental distress

The Productivity Commission’s latest Report on Government Services (released January 2024) shows that 42.9 per cent, or two in five households are experiencing rental stress despite receiving Commonwealth Rental Assistance (CRA). 

People on low incomes are particularly susceptible to housing instability, due to higher private housing prices. 

In 2019 – 2020, 52.5 per cent of lower income households were experiencing rental stress (paying more than 30 per cent of gross household income or housing costs.) 

Alongside rental distress, relationship breakdown (including domestic and family violence), increased the risk of homelessness and the need for social housing. Interpersonal and relationship issues was the reason 49 per cent of people sought specialist homelessness services. Of these, 73.3 per cent identified as domestic and family violence.

Mental health, medical issues or problematic substance abuse accounted for why 24.1 per cent of people accessed specialist homelessness services. Disability, alcohol and drug misuse and unemployment were also contributing factors.

“Housing has become a burning issue for Australians both for those who could not afford a home and for those worrying about their children,” Former NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet said while giving a talk to the Property Council of NSW in mid February 2024.

Unfortunately, housing instability and homelessness can increase vulnerability to worse economic circumstances, through “poorer outcomes in education, employment and health and increased risk of involvement with the justice system,” the Productivity Report states.

Students dropping out of high school

The Productivity Commission’s Report on education services (issued January 2024) has found that 79 per cent of students in government high schools completed Year 12, compared to 83.3 per cent five years earlier. For non-government schools, the proportion who finish was a healthier 87.2 per cent. This is the lowest retention rate in high schools over the last 10 years.

The HSC attainment rates increased as socio-economic status increased. And, across remote areas in Australia, the attainment rates were substantially lower in very remote areas compared to other areas. 

The Productivity Commission report also suggested that enrolments at universities were continuing to trend downwards too. According to Lenore Taylor’s report in ‘The Guardian’, nationally in 2023, 65.7 per cent of people between 20 and 64 had a qualification at certificate III level or above, down from 66.2 per cent in 2022.

What can be done?

Address the inequality for the young people in our care.

Disadvantaged students have been found on average to be two to three years behind in reading and maths compared to their peers, and the likelihood is that they will earn less income and could become unemployed in the future.

The Burdekin Association’s targeted educational support assists children and young people in our Out of Home Care program who are unable to engage in their local school, but excel when provided with customised support, improving their access to opportunities such as employment, healthcare, housing, family and community.

Our Housing, Support and Community Intervention services provide support to children and young people between the age of 9 and 24.

Our Model of Care is innovative and based on extensive research and an understanding that the needs of the young people we assist are far greater than just providing safe accommodation.

Our program areas are focused on disrupting the risk factors within our community. Our programs and support results in 95 per cent of our young people being engaged in education or employment.

Learn more about the success of our programs here.

Alcohol Education Workshop proves a hit with students!

Alcohol Education Workshop held by The Burdekin Association as part of the Canada Bay Library Project

The Burdekin Association recently conducted an Alcohol Education Workshop as part of the Canada Bay Youth Space Project, in collaboration with Concord High School. Thirty Year 9 students actively participated in these informative sessions.

Throughout the workshops, Year 9 students delved into topics such as the impact of alcohol on decision-making, the hazards associated with excessive alcohol consumption, the physiological effects of alcohol on the human body, and the crucial importance of responsible drinking. 

One engaging activity involved students wearing “beer goggles”, simulating the experience of intoxication. This exercise aimed to provide a firsthand understanding of the challenges posed by impaired perception. The beer goggles functioned by altering the participants’ view, affecting their balance and stability. This alteration made it challenging for students to walk in a straight line or perform seemingly simple tasks such as pouring a drink, reading a tongue twister, picking up a coin, or maintaining a straight path while walking. 

Through this immersive activity, students gained valuable insights into the effects of alcohol on one’s abilities and behaviour.

The students expressed favourable opinions about the interactive components of the workshop, emphasising how these hands-on experiences greatly enriched their comprehension and heightened their awareness of the potential hazards and risks associated with excessive drinking.

The students gained insight into:

  • How alcohol influences decision making.
  • The impact alcohol has on a person’s ability to drive.
  • The consequences of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.
  • The importance of responsible drinking
  • Safety measures that you can put in place to help yourself and your friends.

Other key learnings the students gained from the experience:

(In their own words)

  • Eat something before you go out, so that you’re not drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Always have someone with you and look after your mates.
  • Call the ambulance if needed.
  • Lay the affected person in the recovery position while waiting for help.
  • Alcohol can harm your brain.
  • Don’t drink and mix alcohol (depressant) with energy drinks (stimulant).
  • Vomiting doesn’t always help you to sober up.
  • Don’t drive home from a party if you drink alcohol.
  • Alcohol takes one hour to be processed by your liver.
  • Call the ambulance on 112 on your mobile if you need help.

The giveaway fidget spinners provided by The Burdekin Association were a tremendous hit among the students. The QR code on the fidget spinners directed people to ‘Your Room’, a “Community Drug Action Team” (CDAT) resource hub for up-to-date and accurate information on alcohol and other drugs.

The positive feedback, high level of engagement and enthusiastic participation from the Year 9 students indicate that similar workshops can be valuable tools in educating and raising awareness among students on critical issues related to alcohol consumption. 

For more information on the Canada Bay Youth Space Project, please click here.

We acknowledge the Aboriginal people of the Cadigal and Gayamaygal Clans. We acknowledge the Country on which we live, work, and gather as being Aboriginal land.

We acknowledge the lands, waterways and skies that are connected to Aboriginal people. We honour them and pay our deepest respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

We respect their rightful place within our communities, and we value their ancient cultural knowledge and practices.

Aboriginal Flag
Torres Straight Island Flag

We deeply respect that this will always be Aboriginal land and we will honour and follow the first peoples’ values in caring for the Country and for preserving their culture.

We deeply value that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the oldest living culture in the world and we will continue to work with their peoples and communities to ensure their cultures endure and remain strong.