I had the great opportunity to be at the Homeless Week Expo to raise awareness of the housing crisis gripping Toowoomba, and its local impact and to provide some observations from the business community.

I recognise homelessness is a complex issue. 

An issue that can affect all people from any background.  One that needs understanding and compassion.  Importantly, I want to recognise the important work many do in the community addressing some of the causes of homelessness whether that be situations of violence, mental health, or sudden life changes like job loss.

But in my view, much more support is needed. 

From a business perspective, we have heard the stories from many of our members from a variety of industry sectors such as the health, accommodation, not for profits, construction, and real estate industries. Their stories have confirmed the current housing crisis and its impact on the community and business.  Their stories depict parts of their workforce becoming homelessness statistics.

Homeless Week Expo

Our members say that the lack of housing:

  • is a deterrent to business attraction;
  • is a disincentive to attracting a workforce;
  • impacts on the ability of businesses to deliver their service;
  • effects on the image of a city; and
  • inhibits business growth and success.

Did you know that homelessness has a direct impact on the local economy?  It has an impact on the service delivery of major institutions like hospitals, is detrimental to one’s personal health, and results in real loss to business productivity and profitability.  According, to the Medical Journal of Australia, the cost of homelessness to our community, and the economy is enormous and increases the longer an individual remains homeless. They argue, that the annual cost to the community of rough sleeping has been estimated as exceeding $25 000 per person, while the cost of youth homelessness in Australia, in terms of additional health and criminal justice costs, has been calculated to be in the order of $626 million per year.

The homelessness crisis in Australia is in part caused by the lack of affordable and social housing.  The Salvation Army is just one of many organisations that argue this fact and call for greater and swift action on the lack of housing.

Locally, a healthy housing market equates to Toowoomba Regional Council maintaining a rolling five-year supply of approved housing lots available for sale, spread over multiple growth fronts to ensure choice and competition.  Currently, this does not exist here in Toowoomba.  In fact, it is my view, that the local strangulation of land supply is intrinsically linked to the City’s limited rental stock, increased rental prices, and a contributor to homelessness. Right?

At a state level, the housing and homelessness action plan backed by a billion-dollar housing investment fund to deliver safe and secure accommodation is welcomed.  However, the ABC has reported that in June 2021 there were 27,000 + applications for social housing amounting to 50,000 people.  So, is it enough?  How is the fund being spent?  How much has been allocated to Toowoomba?

At a national level, the Australian Government argues housing provides stability and can be a contributing factor to education status, job prospects, and health outcomes.  Economically, shelter, they say, has a significant impact on investment and productivity.  So, what has the national government done for homelessness?  According to the national housing and homelessness agreements established in 2018 they have provided an estimated 1.6 billion a year to States and Territories to facilitate greater access to housing.  Where you aware of this arrangement?  And I do wonder what proportion has been allocated locally.  Any idea?

A couple of weeks ago we heard from Australia’s leading social demographer and commentator Mark McCrindle, that the Toowoomba business community survey indicated the deep concern about the impact of regulatory settings at local, state, and federal government levels.  We seek those unnecessary regulatory settings to be removed to allow our members to play a greater role in providing safe and secure housing for our society and the most vulnerable.

Homeless Week Expo

I encourage a bipartisan approach to housing and homelessness and urge all levels of government to work collaboratively with the business sector to create and test solutions.

Why?  Because it is my view, that it is not good enough that in 2022, people are sleeping in our city’s laneways, under bridges or in their cars in Ruthven Street, then going to work and school.

I do not have all the answers but have many questions to ask.  But we need to be discussing these challenges openly and sharing our ideas.  It is imperative and socially and economically responsible that we, collectively, address this challenge, if not for us, for future generations. 

Let us know your ideas and how we can create change by emailing admin@toowoombachamber.com.au

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