National Homelessness Week 2022: Speech by CEO Frances Crimmins

4 August 2022

During National Homelessness Week 2022, YWCA Canberra CEO Frances Crimmins was invited to present at a virtual event to launch Homelessness Week.

Good morning and thank you for tuning in to the launch of this year’s National Homelessness Week 

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we gather today, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and future, as well as acknowledging any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who may be in the room with us today.  

I also extend my respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who, for thousands of years, have preserved the culture and practices of their communities on Country. This land was never surrendered, and we acknowledge that it always was and will continue to always be Aboriginal land. 

This year’s National Homelessness Week brings with it the renewed optimism of a new government, a new ministerial portfolio and a forthcoming budget. 

And it takes place amidst the now widely accepted reality that Australia’s housing system, regardless of tenure, location or circumstance, is beyond broken for an overwhelming number of people.  

And one demographic affected by the myriad of ways the system is broken is women with children who are leaving violence.  

We already know the data that reflects their lived reality. Numbers that are repeated so often they have become almost trite. 

  • 7,690 women returning to perpetrators every year because they have nowhere to go 
  • 9,000 becoming homeless after mustering the courage to leave violence, and  
  • roughly 40% of all persons accessing homelessness services citing domestic or family violence as a co-presenting factor. 

At YWCA Canberra and at specialist housing services across the country, these are not just numbers.  

They are our clients who face uncertainty and poverty. Clients who are sleeping in cars or garages and who, in the face of overstretched services and an undersupply of public or social housing in an unaffordable landscape, face the reality of having to choose between homelessness and returning to a perpetrator. 

It never needed to be this way, however. 

For too long, efforts to lift housing supply or improve access and availability of services have happened without an overarching strategic approach to address the crises in housing and affordability more broadly.  

A national housing strategy that takes into account tenure, demand, vulnerable cohorts, geography, economy and peripheral government measures will contribute immensely to responding to this dire situation in a coordinated and effective way.   

We know that access to housing is fundamental to ending homelessness, and along with everyone here, I welcome the Australian Government’s Housing Future Fund initiative to set aside 4,000 homes for women escaping violence.  

And here at YWCA Canberra, after more than two years, we have finally been granted approval to proceed with building nine homes for women experiencing homelessness or housing crisis.  

These nine dwellings, called YHomes, may make an imperceptible dent in the undersupply of supported housing in Canberra, but the impact on the lives of those future residents will be significant.  

But homelessness among women with children and histories of domestic or family violence is not just a symptom of the obvious housing pressures they encounter but also a symptom of government systems that exclude, marginalise and leave women with limited pathways out of poverty. 

In going forward with a national housing strategy, we must also consider how a root and branch review of government systems and how they create or prolong poverty among single parents, around 70% of whom have experienced violence, need to be considered in a bold future housing strategy.  

Because for decades, punitive welfare and mutual obligation measures have made the lives of the women who leave violence exceptionally hard. 

Many women leaving violence with children will find themselves not only at the mercy of low vacancy rates, stretched services and exorbitant rents but also at the mercy of a welfare system that entrenches their poverty and sets them up for crisis beyond violence.   

Trying to survive, to find accommodation while depending on the austerity Jobseeker, or juggling punitive obligations of the Parents Next program is not extricating anyone from crisis.  

A bold national housing strategy needs to consider well-being in all its forms.  

And while housing is fundamental to improved life outcomes, so is a livable welfare net that provides the means for survivors to begin building healthy and fulfilling lives.  

My message this national homelessness week is for government leaders, policymakers and advocates to work towards not only the outcome of safe housing for domestic violence survivors but also a gender-informed, fairer and supportive welfare system that supports women and their families holistically in their new lives free from violence.  

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