Climate justice includes secure public housing

6 Comments

 

As homes burned down and memories were reduced to rubble, Australia banded together. But what about those who, in some cases, had already lost everything?

Children on a train with their mother look at children in a house. Illustration by Chris Johnston

Climate change is here and our homeless population are already feeling the effects. The public housing system is not keeping up. First, there’s the quality on the housing. On the 18th of December last year, Australia experienced its hottest day on record with the national average temperature reaching a high of 40.9 degrees celsius.

As the bushfires raged and air quality worsened, we were constantly told to stay indoors, keep cool and be alert for emergency orders on our phones. But with each public service announcement, we continued to leave some of our most vulnerable behind.

‘It’s a real risk… even death,’ Kate Colvin, Acting CEO of Council to Homeless Persons said, speaking of the dangers climate change pose to people living in low-quality housing. ‘If people have housing that can be cooled with air conditioning then they are better able to close the house up and be better protected. We’re hoping the State Government improves that because this summer has shown how important it is to be living in homes that are well insulated and have cooling.’

There is currently no national policy requiring public housing to provide cooling systems. Rather, it is a state issue but they are only permitted to provide tenants with housing that is 'fit for habitation.'

A report from Mallee Family Care and the University of Sydney studied the Victorian town of Mildura and found rental and public housing ‘is often substandard and unsafe and poorly adapted to high temperatures.’ It also concluded these added stresses increase incidents of family violence, substance abuse and have a deep impact on the mental health of occupants.

 

'We've seen bushfires, heatwaves, floods and hail in Australia since the new year. Climate action needs to happen. But we also need to ask whether the public housing system is sustainable for the future.'

 

Then there is the fact that most of us are already aware of — there is a housing shortage in Australia. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, nationwide there were 140,600 applicants on the waiting list for public housing in June 2018.

And if the uncertainty of waiting for housing isn’t enough, once you are granted housing the only guarantee of having air conditioning is if you have a proven medical condition.

We've seen bushfires, heatwaves, floods and hail in Australia since the new year. Climate action needs to happen. But we also need to ask whether the public housing system is sustainable for the future.

With our climate becoming more unpredictable, it makes sense to combat both the housing and climate crises at the same time. Upgrading existing and building future housing with renewable energy would make public housing both more affordable and better suited for the changing climate.

I volunteer for Orange Sky Australia, a mobile shower and laundry service for the homeless, with services across 24 locations nationwide. I spoke with one woman at our service, who had been on the streets for six years.

She recently secured housing but shuddered at the thought of sleeping rough the past weekend, recalling long nights spent riding the train from Central to Kiama just to have somewhere protected from the elements.

Homelessness is so much more than whether you have a roof over your head. It is a sense of powerlessness and a lack of security, waiting up for the last train to anywhere, as long as the trip is long.

At least all of Sydney’s trains are air conditioned. If we want to help more people get off the streets public housing should be too.

 

 

Andrew JacksonAndrew is a third-year journalism student studying at the University of Technology Sydney. He works as a producer at Fox Sports Australia and volunteers for Orange Sky Australia, a non-for-profit organisation which provides shower and laundry services for the homeless.

Main image: Children on a train with their mother look at children in a house. Illustration by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Andrew Jackson, climate change, public housing, climate justice

 

 

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Existing comments

State Housing Commission (SHC) housing was a bit like the workhouse in England in earlier times. It was offered grudgingly and as a last resort to what were often considered 'the undeserving poor'. Some of those ghastly SHC tower developments of the 1950s and 60s in Melbourne, like the ones in Fitzroy and South Melbourne, spawned all sorts of mental health problems and social ills. There were better developments, but even those, like Mt Druitt in NSW, suffered because a lot of people with serious social problems were moved in there without adequate resources to assist them. Our attitude to social problems is very similar to that pertaining here and in the UK in the 18th and 19th Century. It would be much better if we copied what the Scandinavian countries do about social welfare and social housing. They are streets ahead of us.
Edward Fido | 21 February 2020


“It also concluded these added stresses increase incidents of family violence, substance abuse and have a deep impact on the mental health of occupants.” You could also justify air temperature management and more housing on the basis that adults and kids can’t study in ovens, fridges or on surfed couches. Education is a poverty break-out.
roy chen yee | 21 February 2020


I agree we need more affordable housing and for for that housing to be habitable now it's arguable that it needs to cooled and sealable from smoke and pollution. The extra energy which will be required to keep all housing adequately cooled willed need to be produced by renewable power sources. Or society requires a fundamental change of attitude away from market economy to achieve these goals. Clearly the market will not provide this.
Joanne Knight | 25 February 2020


Insightful article generating high quality comments, though more of them might prompt governments to act! A daughter works for Crisis Care UK, where the homeless are found in conspicuously large numbers huddled over heat-emitting grates and in shopping-centres (which, alas, close at night for cleaning). The worst atrocities are to be found in developing countries where cashed-up consumers pay to access shopping centres as a consequence of which the excluded homeless are at risk of death, especially in tropical and arid global cityscapes. There railway-stations, bus-termini and airports provide some shelter, until police and sometimes vigilantes, often armed and disrespectful of human rights, drive them away. In Italy last year I noticed homeless persons housed at night in churches (St Egidio Communities). Some of the tenderest attitudes in Australia are demonstrated by public librarians, whose pastoral behaviour - invariably beyond the call of duty - vastly impresses. Vinnies' sleep-out, which I first experienced as a student in Trafalgar Square many moons ago, was an eye-opener. In some parts of the world governments justify housing the homeless in empty houses thereby effectively legalising squatting. +Eamonnn Casey, a flawed yet great priest, left an indelible legacy in the (Catholic) Housing Aid Society!
Michael Furtado | 26 February 2020


Great article - as noted by the Tenants' Union of NSW there will be no homes on a dead planet! Check out: https://www.tenants.org.au/blog/no-homes-dead-planet
Leo PR | 28 February 2020


The LNP crime syndicate (aka Australian "government") abandoned us decades ago. We are the Untermensch. We matter not. We are supposed to die. Out of sight. Unobtrusively. Quietly.
Max | 28 February 2020


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