The housing programs are designed to support individuals and families when they are at different stages in their housing cycle. While some housing programs aim to intervene early and work on avoiding short-term and long-term housing and homelessness issues, other programs are aimed at those individuals and families who find themselves homeless.
The housing services provide programs to address emergency and long-term housing needs such as crisis and transitional accommodation. CAFS housing programs support individuals and families in more than 30 properties across the region as well as those people in emergency accommodation in caravan parks, hotels and motels. The Social Housing Advocacy and Support program (SHASP) and the Tenancy Advocacy and Advice program (TAAP) provide support and advice on issues relating to a person’s tenancy and housing issues.
Whether families are in public or private housing, they can seek information, advice and advocacy support from these programs. Families can also seek support if they are required to attend the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in relation to their tenancy issues. In addition to these services, CAFS housing tenancy services have a strong connection with Aboriginal families through the Aboriginal Tenants At Risk (ATAR) program, which is specifically designed to provide advocacy support for Aboriginal individuals and families experiencing problems with their rental accommodation. This program offers assistance in areas such as tenancy difficulties, available rebates, rental arrears and VCAT matters. This program is offered across the Grampians region and is highly regarded by the Aboriginal communities.
The housing services also support young people to maintain their existing housing arrangements or, if required, find other appropriate accommodation. With specific programs such as Creating Connections in Bacchus Marsh and Youth Transition in Ballarat, young people are supported to develop domestic skills, such as cooking and maintaining properties, and skills in financial management. The program also helps them in their search for suitable employment or training and linking them into community and sporting groups to build their independence and community connectedness. CAFS’ broad and diverse group of programs ensures that individuals and families seeking support are able to access a one-stop shop approach to having their needs met.
Many individuals and families receive housing support, accommodation and referral from all the CAFS offices in the Grampians region. The housing workers have extensive knowledge of the resources available, ensuring that everything possible is done to keep families in their communities. They provide advice, support assessment and referral through many interactions with individuals and families. These interactions include face-to-face meetings, phone calls, use of social media tools, and people coming to the CAFS offices with no prior appointment. Many hours of support are provided through the TAAP to help individuals and families deal with matters relating to their housing tenancy.
Silvia* was referred to CAFS by her disability support worker. She lives in a remote regional location and is a single parent with four children who has resided in the same Department of Health and Human Services house for the past 10 years.
During that period, she always paid her rent on time but due to a relatively recent change in her circumstances, she accrued significant rent arrears. She has some literacy issues and did not respond to communication from DHHS. Subsequently, there was a hearing at the Residential Tenancies Tribunal, which she did not attend, and an eviction order was granted. Silvia received notice from the local police indicating that they were executing the warrant to evict her within seven days. She was very confused and did not know what to do. She contacted her support worker, who immediately contacted CAFS.
Attempts by the CAFS housing advocate to negotiate with DHHS to stay the warrant until supports could be implemented were unsuccessful despite Silvia’s good rental history. CAFS housing advocate workers applied for a review of the original hearing and the matter was set down for a new hearing. Such an application immediately stays the warrant. Silvia attended the new hearing with her disability support worker and, prior to the hearing, DHHS agreed to renegotiate and a repayment plan for the arrears was prepared and signed.
An order by consent was granted and the warrant was cancelled. While some of Silvia’s initial actions contributed to the situation, the ramifications of the eviction order being executed and implemented would have been devastating for the family who would have become homeless and subsequently the community services that would have become involved again to support the family being homeless.
This case demonstrates the work carried out by housing advocate workers at CAFS and while not all cases are like this, the importance of having skilled and experienced advocates working with families is essential.
*Not her real name