Lee Duffield

Edited by Lee Duffield
Freedom and Truth

Homelessness looks set to continue

Social service industry leaders have questioned the ability of the social sector to meet the nation’s proposed 2020 target of eliminating homelessness at the Many Ways Home convention in Brisbane this week.

The Australian government does not provide adequate financial support for social workers and social service institutions, according to panellists at the convention.

The panel discussion coincided with the release of a new university study that found that many social service workers are barely making a living above the poverty line.

The study of youth housing workers, which was presented by Michael Emslie at the convention, revealed the majority of youth housing workers spend around thirty per cent of their income on housing.

The survey found the workers, who are charged with housing disadvantaged youths, were all at risk of losing their accommodation due to hardship.

“It is reasonable to expect those workers with the task of supporting (homeless) people… can afford to secure housing themselves”, said Michael Emslie, study co-ordinator and Youth Work lecturer at RMIT University.

Almost all workers studied could not afford to own a home, and several supplemented their income with a second job. Several workers reported earning amounts as small as five hundred dollars annually above the income level cut-off for financial hardship benefits.

“One worker said she takes poverty-stricken people on a Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA) to buy furniture – she takes her furniture from the side of the road,” Mr Emslie said.

An ongoing theme of the convention was that there is not enough funding in the social services sector.

“The (social work) sector is hugely underfunded and as a result, social workers are underpaid and overworked… resources are… stretched to their capacity,” said Robyn Martin, Curtin University lecturer and panellist at the Many Ways Home convention.

Low wages are attributed as the main barrier to attracting people to the industry. Despite sixty per cent of the workers in the study having at least one bachelor degree, all participants said they experienced financial stress.

“There is a high turnover of workers, and they are often not… good workers, which has affected the effectiveness of programs… to take people off the streets,” said Netty Horton, Supervisor of Aged Care and Community Services with St Vincent de Paul.

A recent increase in volunteering has helped ease the time burden of stressed social workers, according to several groups that work with volunteers to help the homeless.

“The findings of the study highlight the importance of volunteers in the community service sector,” said Mechile Gumalal, a spokesman for Drugarm.

The Many Ways Home convention began on Wednesday, and will finish this afternoon.

Many Ways Home, volunteering