Homelessness Week 2021

Ending homelessness - a view from the frontline

By Liz Thomas, Wayss CEO

Everybody deserves to have access to safe secure housing. It’s one of the basic building blocks everyone needs in order to have a chance to reach their potential and make the most of their lives.

Yet another National Homelessness Week comes around with too many people across Victoria not having safe, affordable housing. As the largest provider of family violence response and housing and homelessness services in the southern Melbourne area, here at Wayss it’s something we know all too well.

Last financial year Wayss provided housing support to nearly 5000 people which gives us an important insight into the multiple and complex difficulties people encounter in trying to find sustainable, long term housing.  

Homelessness has many faces and causes. However we know that family violence is the biggest cause of homelessness for women and children. Over the past twelve months Wayss supported around 980 women and children to escape violence and find somewhere safe to draw breath and start rebuilding their lives.

For many of these families, short term emergency accommodation was the start of their journey to live a life free from violence. In the past year, Wayss has provided access to emergency short term accommodation – rooming houses, hotels and motels – to over 900 Victorians.  It’s much better than staying in an unsafe environment or living on the street on in a car, but it’s not the stable home these families need and deserve.

What’s particularly troubling is the impact this has on children. In the last three months, the average number of children Wayss has placed into short term crisis accommodation to keep them safe from violence has doubled. We know children are impacted and often traumatised by the experience as they move from a violent domestic situation to living in cramped spaces, struggling with online learning or missing school altogether – missing their friends and facing uncertainty the whole time.


Early intervention and targeted investment

This is far from ideal. Yet there are often no other options. Quite simply, there is just not enough affordable housing stock for people on low incomes, especially those who are dependent on government benefits. As a result, people end up staying in short term crisis accommodation and other sub-standard living environments because there is no other option.  

Wayss front line experience provides us with first hand knowledge of what needs to be done to address the current housing crisis – increased housing stock, combined with better-resourced housing access points, expansion of the tenancy support programs to low-income earners in private rental properties and targeted early intervention for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. 

Wayss strongly endorses the finding of the 2021 Victorian Parliament’s Enquiry into Homelessness that an appropriately resourced early intervention approach for people at risk of homelessness is key to preventing people from entering what can become a lifetime of housing insecurity. 

We also acknowledge that the Big Housing Build is a significant first step towards addressing decades of Government underspend in social housing and should continue to be at the core of all party platforms – a shared commitment to ending housing insecurity in our State.

In short, the system should function to ensure that when a person does experience homelessness, they don’t stay homeless for long, and they are well supported to improve their circumstances. Only when specialist homelessness services like Wayss are in a position to be able to offer people a stable home quickly, together with the multi-faceted support they need to resolve the complex factors that brought them into homelessness, will we truly be able to make a meaningful impact on this complex issue.

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Wayss in the 1990s

Then in September 1997 the organisation became WAYSS Limited with a Board of Directors and day to day management by the Chief Executive Officer.

Wayss underwent further transformation with the restructure of community housing and the funding of the Transitional Housing Management (THM) program. The Regional Housing Council ceased operation and transferred direct service operations to Wayss in 1997.

During this decade Wayss became responsible for the then South East Women’s Domestic Violence Outreach Service. Funding was also received to establish a Children’s Services Worker within the outreach service. SAAP funded Women’s Outreach Program was also transferred to Wayss in 1999.