Indigenous facing crisis-housing squeeze
A shortfall in government-owned accommodation is forcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into overcrowded homes, their cars or the streets, say Canberra welfare groups. Concern over a lack of accommodation follows an increase in the number of self-identified indigenous public housing tenants in the past year.
One problem highlighted by housing groups is overcrowding, as seen in the case of a single mother who until recently lived in one room with her four young sons aged between seven years and 20 months. Now in emergency accommodation with the help of a local charity, the woman said she felt there was some discrimination against her and others due to the higher levels of family support traditionally provided by indigenous families.
''I've had problems with housing since I moved here in December,'' she said.
''At the time, I was living with my parents in a crowded house. I've got four young boys of my own and we were all in one room.''
Aboriginal Housing and Management Support Inc director Darren Williams said overcrowding was a common impact of insufficient housing for indigenous families, who work on a kinship basis. ''You're not going to turn away any family and friends, especially if they're in need,'' he said.
''That's why you've got problems with overcrowding.''
Mr Williams established the housing support group several years ago, after noticing a gap in local indigenous housing.
''I was originally the office manager of an indigenous community support service in Queanbeyan and I was getting an overflow of clients from Canberra,'' he said.
''What they said when they approached me was 'can you help us with housing? First Point have given us this' and they showed me a brand new sleeping bag. They were told to go and find a corner.''
However the ACT government has reported a growing number of indigenous people taking up public housing in Canberra.
The number of self-identified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tenancies increased from 520 to 620 in the 12 months to June, according to the Community Services Directorate annual report 2011-12. Those tenancies brought the total number of self-identified indigenous residents to 1259.
The directorate also operates an indigenous boarding house program, managed by Inanna Inc, consisting of six homes for short-term accommodation for families and single people coming to the ACT.
However Mr Williams said there were still serious concerns for indigenous men aged between 30 and 50 who were struggling to find accommodation after separations or domestic violence charges.
''They can't go back to that house, they have nowhere to go,'' he said.
''The only alternative is for the police to lock them up in jail. We want to able to have somewhere where they can be accommodated temporarily until they can find other accommodation.''
ACT Shelter executive officer Leigh Watson said the government needed to address the shortfall of emergency and short-term accommodation, particularly given the high proportion of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people accessing homeless services in the capital.
''We have received anecdotal feedback indigenous people are reluctant to access First Point, as they find the process intimidating,'' she said.
''As a result, when someone requires emergency accommodation they usually end up staying with friends or relatives, which is compounding an already existing problem of severe overcrowding, or in their car.''
ACT Labor has pledged $1.5 million funding to increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing services, if re-elected. Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said the funding would allow the construction of a ''culturally appropriate property''. It would pay for respite care for up to five people with high support needs.