Housing, mental health services needed to keep locals out of homelessness

Community agency AC Care says more must be done to help the hundreds of Murray Bridge residents at risk each year.

Poverty and mental health issues have threatened to make hundreds of people homeless in Murray Bridge in the past year, a local service provider says.

Almost 440 people sought help from AC Care’s homelessness service in Murray Bridge in 2019-20.

Almost all of them – 94 per cent – either found housing or were able to keep the home they already had.

But here and across South Australia, service manager Trish Spark said, the story was the same: people already experiencing mental health issues were far more likely to end up battling homelessness as well, making up 40% of the homelessness service’s clients.

“The lack of adequate mental health services in regional areas continues to pose challenges for vulnerable people, amplifying disadvantage and the risk of homelessness,” she said.

“There is a desperate need for long-term, supported mental health facilities in regional South Australia for those who have difficulty living independently and sustaining tenancies.”

A lack of public housing, and affordable private housing, was also a big problem in country SA, she said.

The limited number of options available was making it harder and harder to find places for people who were in “very challenging” situations, including families with young children.

That task would only become more difficult if the rate of Jobseeker payments was reduced to pre-COVID levels in the months to come, as the federal government planned.

“Increased payments provided by the federal government brought Jobseeker to a level that helped lift people out of the poverty trap, and allow them to afford necessities to have a safe and stable home and build a better future,” she said.

“We are greatly concerned about what will happen when this is scaled back.”

She echoed Homelessness Australia’s call for 30,000 new social housing properties to be built nationwide in the next four years.

AC Care is doing its part to try and help in Murray Bridge, leading the construction of four new units for young people at risk of homelessness.

A lack of accommodation suitable for young people was yet another problem facing locals, Ms Spark said.

Awareness-raising event had to be cancelled

AC Care had planned to draw attention to homelessness by staging a walk across Murray Bridge's old road bridge this week, National Homelessness Week.

The walk was planned for last Friday, and was to have finished with a barbecue at Edwards Square.

But, like so many plans this year, COVID-19 forced the event to be cancelled.

The agency hoped to resurrect the idea next year, it said in a Facebook post.

“As it was planned to be our first event of its kind for Murray Bridge, we hope to launch a bigger walk with involvement of the community, including schools, in 2021 and hope it becomes part of the annual calendar of events for the region,” AC Care said.

  • Get help: Call AC Care on 8531 4900 between 9am and 5pm on weekdays, or the Homelessness Gateway on 1800 003 308 after hours; or visit AC Care at 29 Bridge Street, Murray Bridge.

  • More information: www.accare.org.au.

Photo of Trish Spark: AC Care.