Friday, April 15, 2005

ON HOUSING THE HOMELESS

Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is variously known as the City of Light, the Garden city, the City of Churches, the Athens of the South, the jewel in the national crown of the arts and sciences. But homelessness is a significant problem.

“We have problems because we have no rental history”, said Jeff Thomas (not his real name), a refugee from Liberia and a new resident of Adelaide. “If you don’t have a good rental history in this country, they reject your application…I have been rejected four times”.

And Jeff is not alone! But how can that be? One does not have a “good rental history” in a refugee camp.

In fact, the problem of homelessness in the emerging communities is receiving some long overdue recognition because of the overwhelming evidence of over-crowding, and housing shortage.

“It’s not easy to find a place to live when you are new, here”, so says Gatluak Guandong, a Sudanese refugee who came to Australia with his wife and five children a couple of years ago. “It took about six months for us to find a house, close to the city…It was a long wait; but a big relief when we finally found one”.

The new arrivals are the most affected (and by far the most disadvantaged) when it comes to the phenomenon of homelessness in the city.

Up to 40 percent of new migrants and refugees have experienced periods of homelessness since arrival in Australia; according to a study by the Flinders University of South Australia.

This is due to several factors; including low income and apparent lack of capacity to pay rent.

Nor can we forget the fact that homelessness is the result of direct discrimination in the private rental market.
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