Overview of the Western Homelessness Network

Melbourne is experiencing a housing crisis. Consequently, the numbers of people who do not have somewhere to live is increasing. Homelessness increased by 40% in Melbourne’s west between 2011 and 2016.

The West has historically been one of the most affordable areas of Melbourne.  This is no longer the case.  Private rental vacancy rates are low in Melbourne (2.1%) and rents are high.  In March 2019 there were no private rental properties available in the West that were affordable for someone on Newstart. There are 14,358 social housing properties in Melbourne’s west however given that movement in to public housing is minimal, there are approximately 12,000 on the waiting list for access to those properties. 

Census 2016 identified that the numbers of people living in severe overcrowding in the West has increased by 79%. Severe overcrowding is defined by the ABS as people living in housing that is four or more bedrooms short.  These people are likely to become the next wave of people presenting to the homelessness service system – a system that is already beyond overwhelmed.

In 2017/18, 13,546 people presented to homelessness services in the West for assistance. This was far in excess of the capacity of the homelessness service system to respond. The experience of homelessness is devastating for those individuals presenting and is extremely distressing for a workforce that is funded to respond to their need (see “What do consumers say?” p. 6).

Census 2016 – however, we know that the Census in a significant under representation of need.

Rental report, December quarter 2018, Department of Health and Human Services (2018)


Submission to the Royal Commission into Mental Health

The cost of responding adequately to the needs of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens – those experiencing mental illness and homelessness – is nowhere near as great as the individual and community-wide costs of failing to act.

This submission, prepared by the Western Homelessness Network (representing 18 specialist homelessness, family violence and allied services managing approximately 80 homelessness programs in the Western suburbs of Melbourne), addresses Question 2 of the formal submission process: What is already working well and what can be done better to prevent mental illness and to support people to get early treatment and support?

The Network has focussed on this question specifically because, as a Sector, we know that homelessness causes mental ill health but that individuals are rarely able to address or stabilise mental health issues in the absence of secure, affordable housing. Addressing Victoria’s housing crisis will reduce the numbers of people entering into homelessness and will enable women and children experiencing family violence to leave situations of violence early. This is, in turn, a preventative strategy, reducing the numbers of people experiencing mental ill health.

Mental ill health leads to poverty for so many people. Fluctuating health creates challenges for people who are trying to manage study and/or stable employment; reducing the earning capacity of many people experiencing mental health issues in the absence of family support. Poverty reduces the capacity of tenants to manage housing costs and so can lead to homelessness, which causes mental ill health.

Likewise, provision of affordable housing is central to stabilising mental health issues for those who are experiencing them. Practitioners from across the mental health and homelessness sectors have advised that it is extremely difficult for anyone to address mental ill health when there is no stability in their living arrangements and while a lack of housing continues to create stress and distress.

We present a number of recommendations, in addition to the key recommendation that the Government work with Federal and Local Governments to address Victoria’s housing crisis, that we believe will increase our capacity to intervene earlier in responding to people experiencing mental ill health.