As we head into a new year, so many of us hope to turn a new leaf, relatively free from the trials of 2020.
Yet the challenges faced by those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness remain as poignant as ever, and to have any hope of ending homelessness, we must continue to call for urgent action and change in 2021.
In mid-January, the Productivity Commission released a Report on Government Services 2021 confirming that, of the low-income households in private rental homes, half are facing rental stress. That means they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing - sometimes much more - and are at risk of homelessness. These numbers have remained largely unchanged over the past decade.
Looking closer at the data, last year a third of people who needed help with accommodation from Specialist Homelessness Services did not have their housing needs met, which is an increase of five per cent over the last four years.
This reconfirms what Mission Australia sees through our programs and services - far too many people are still suffering with the pressures of rental stress and are on the brink of homelessness.
Many others have already been pushed into homelessness because the safe, secure and appropriate accommodation options simply aren't available for all those who need them.
It's no secret that Australia's housing system remains in urgent need of repair and investment. There is still a severe shortage of social and affordable homes in our country.
Social housing is secure and affordable rental housing for people on low incomes who have housing needs, managed by community housing providers or the government. Affordable housing is rental housing that is priced so that people on low or moderate incomes can still pay for other essentials.
It has been estimated that we need another 500,000 social and affordable homes in Australia to meet people's needs. Without this, too many people simply can't find a safe, secure and affordable place to live. This leads to people and families facing challenging choices between paying for food, bills, the rent or even medication and missing out on other essentials.
Investment in building, upgrading and improving social and affordable housing will support economic recovery, improve social and economic outcomes for people on lower incomes, and will help Australia take those all-important steps towards ending homelessness.
As an immediate economic stimulus measure, the Government should invest in building 30,000 new social homes over four years under the Social Housing Acceleration and Renovation Program (SHARP) proposal.
The SHARP proposal would not only help to end homelessness for many but would also create around 18,000 jobs each year.
Those who regularly read this column will know that Mission Australia is an unwavering advocate for a national plan to end homelessness and long-term government and private investment to address the critical shortage of social and affordable homes.
We know that Australia's experiences of drought, bushfires, flood and a pandemic have reinforced just how vital a safe and secure home is for people to live, work, access education and stay well.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we still urgently need more social and affordable homes to help end homelessness in Australia.
Additionally, income support payments must urgently be set at an adequate rate to keep people out of poverty and ensure they have enough to pay for housing as well as other essentials like food, medicine and education.
These issues need to be tackled as a priority in 2021.