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How we can address the twin challenge of homelessness and domestic violence in Australia?

When people think about what’s behind homelessness, they often think about widely known causes.

Why do we have a growing homelessness problem in Australia?

When people think about what’s behind homelessness, they often think about widely known causes. They might think of unemployment, poverty, and lack of affordable housing. Or perhaps drugs and alcohol, gambling and mental health issues.

Few people think of women fleeing family and domestic violence.

 Yet, the data shows us that the proportion of people seeking homelessness services to escape domestic violence has risen sharply in Australia. According to a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), two in every five people who sought homelessness services last financial year did so for domestic and family violence reasons.

It’s important to note that this increase is not seen as indicating a rise in the level of homelessness, or domestic and family violence. Rather, it’s thought to be that increased awareness of domestic violence is leading more people to seek help from services.

Domestic violence and homelessness have a huge impact on individuals, families, and communities across our country.

Individuals who experience abuse in relationships can suffer long-term emotional and psychological effects – not having a safe place to sleep at night makes it all the worse. Children who witness domestic violence can suffer the same impacts of mental abuse as the victim themselves. At a time when they should be studying, or having fun with friends, they can be plagued with debilitating anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 But it’s not just human consequences we need to consider. Domestic violence and homelessness have knock-on effects that can impact our economy. These include both the need for supporting services, as well as people’s ability to work being hindered.

It’s clear we need to get serious about addressing homelessness and domestic violence in Australia but how should we go about it? Both issues are complex, and obviously, not always related.

Still, we know investment in services is vital to help people break the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness. It makes economic sense as well. Only recently, a study by the University of Melbourne found that it is significantly cheaper for governments to invest in last resort housing than to leave people sleeping on the streets.

 Not-for-profits are at the forefront of supporting the most vulnerable in our society, including those experiencing homelessness and family violence. However, with the shrinking pool of government funding squeezing not-for-profit budgets, we need to think outside the box to deliver innovative, sustainable services.

Collaboration is key to generate sustainable solutions – not-for-profits need to work together, not only with other not-for-profits and government, but also financial services to unlock innovative funding models. For instance, Community Sector Banking’s Social Investment Grants Program, which is partly funded by contributions from Social Investment Deposit Account holders. Our 2017 program – which is open for applications until August 4 – aims to support not-for-profits to build resilience and capability in people experiencing homelessness or domestic and family violence. This is just one example of how innovative funding can enable the not-for-profit sector.

 With collaboration and innovative thinking, together we can help people experiencing homelessness and family violence, and ultimately empower them to reverse their situation.

By Andrew Cairns, CEO of Community Sector Banking.

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