Mission Australia is calling for urgent action to address the unacceptable number of people who will be homeless or at risk of homelessness this Christmas, following the release of new data by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) that shows the number of people seeking support from Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) has continued to grow.

The Specialist homelessness services annual report 2016–17 shows that specialist homelessness services met over 288,000 requests for assistance last financial year, an increase of 3% on 2015–16 figures. These numbers have steadily increased since the first report was released in 2011.

Sixty-two percent of people assisted reported that they were affected by housing affordability stress.

While the number of people being supported by specialist homelessness services is increasing each year, there were an estimated 95,390 requests for assistance that went unmet in 2016-17.

Mission Australia CEO James Toomey said that many existing services are stretched beyond capacity and urgent action is needed to ensure that services can meet demand.

“Services simply can’t meet the demand of the sheer number of requests they are receiving. Devastatingly, this means thousands of people in need are being turned away each month.”

“Homelessness doesn’t stop for the festive season. We know that over one hundred thousand people are homeless in Australia on any given night and there will be a distressing number of people homeless this Christmas. We are calling for urgent action to ensure that safe and secure housing is available for everyone who needs it.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of older people asking for assistance from homelessness services. We know that the high cost of housing is placing great financial strain on many older people, particularly those who are renting.

“Increasingly we see that working people are unable to afford suitable accommodation. For people who receive social security payments like the age pension or Newstart, there’s not much left to survive on after paying the rent each week.

“Our frontline staff are reporting that many people are having to make tough choices – between paying the power bill or paying the rent. At this time of year, the financial pressures can be even greater, particularly for families with children.

“Homelessness services like those run by Mission Australia are constantly stretched and don’t have capacity to meet increased demand. This report reinforces what we are seeing on the frontline.

Mr Toomey says that governments must take leadership to reduce the number of people being pushed into homelessness.

“The figures show that there is an urgent need for more short-term and emergency accommodation, with many requests for temporary housing, particularly from women, going unmet. We also know there is a need for greater investment in long-term affordable housing to reduce and ultimately end homelessness.

“Alongside others in the sector we are calling for investment in 500,000 new social and affordable homes by 2030.

“We need a national action plan that addresses the drivers of homelessness including family violence, poverty and the lack of affordable housing. When people do become homeless, the focus should be to rapidly rehouse people and support them to maintain that housing.

Mr Toomey says that the whole community can play a role in supporting people in need.

“Organisations like Mission Australia are ready to support people in need at this time of year, but we do rely on the generous donations of supporters to be able to meet requests.

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Purpose - 'Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God'