06/08/2008 - 22:00

Homeless downside of boom

06/08/2008 - 22:00

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The growing rate of homelessness in Western Australia is a by-product of the state's mining boom, according to the Community Housing Coalition of WA.

The growing rate of homelessness in Western Australia is a by-product of THE state's mining boom, according to the Community Housing Coalition of WA.

CHCWA executive director Colin McClughan said WA's strong economic growth has had a downside, with accommodation in most communities now unaffordable for a large number of service workers and key industry employees.

"Service workers who work in shops and hotels who earn up to $40,000 struggle to pay market rent and even key workers like police, nurses, paramedics and teachers are now struggling because they're unable to pay their mortgages because interest rates have gone up and they're forced to give up their houses," he said.

"Where do they live? Rent has gone up 25 per cent in the last 12 months, so they start living with friends and before you know it they're looking for accommodation wherever they can get it."

CHCWA chairperson Lynne Evans said while big wage rises had made some workers rich off the back of the boom, there was a growing divide between the haves and have-nots.

"The boom is what's caused half of this," Ms Evans said of the current housing climate.

She said with people working on the mines earning upward of $120,000 a year, the prospects for young people, particularly students, to afford rent or buy a home were dwindling.

CHCWA, which represents the majority of community housing providers throughout the state, launched the inaugural Homeless Persons Week on August 4.

The campaign's theme 'It's not who you think', focuses on the changing definition of what it means to be 'homeless' and the fact that in a tough economic climate it could be anyone.

With the median rent for a house tipped to surpass $406 a week within three years and housing starts down 11 per cent in 2007-08, homeless services estimate a 30 per cent increase in the number of people in need over the next few years.

Chairman of community accommodation service Passages Resource Centre, David Reed, who is better known as chairman of mining company Reed Resources, said these factors made it difficult for people on low-to-medium incomes to retain a permanent base or fixed address.

"We're talking about people who can't afford to pay a mortgage, who are unable to pay rent because of the rising costs of living," he said.

"There are a growing number of people in WA who fit into this mould and that's who we deem homeless."

Passages, which provides homeless services to young people aged 12 to 25, is one of many not-for-profit organisations attempting to assist the estimated 187,000 homeless people in Australia.

Passages coordinator Danielle Tilbrook said that, while the WA government spent $37 million each year on homeless services or people at risk of becoming homeless, the sector was still dramatically underfunded.

But, Child Protection Minister Sue Ellery said the state government was focused on helping disadvantaged young people who, in the current housing climate, were often excluded from rental opportunities.

"Without a roof over their heads, young people are at risk of dropping out of study and lowering their job prospects and, in the worst case, they risk joining the ranks of the long-term homeless," she said.

In September 2007, the government announced a $238 million housing affordability package to build 24 new social housing dwellings, up to 300 new lodging houses and crisis accommodation rooms.

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