Sam is a 44-year-old mum from Bega. For the last 18 weeks, she has been homeless.

Sam is a 44-year-old mum-of-five, an AIN (Assistant in Nursing) at Bega hospital, an experienced aged care worker, a member of the RFS and heavily involved in her local community.

For the last eighteen weeks, Sam has also been homeless.

Late last year, her rental property was condemned after being damaged in a storm. ‘Leaking like a sieve,’ she said, a tarp was placed over the roof, and they were given 14 days to get out.

"All our household items went into storage. The kids were allowed one bag, no toys. Just what we could carry or fit in the car," she said.

"I contacted Mission Australia for help. I knew I wouldn’t get another rental within 14 days. I posted on Facebook hoping someone would help, or know someone with a spare bedroom or accommodation. I contacted farmers to see if they had spare houses on their farms, I put notices up at work and applied for everything and anything that was available. I asked friends of friends; anyone who would listen," she said.

Watch: Independent economist Nicki Hutley and Ray White chief economist Nerida Conisbee explains the current rental crisis in Australia. Post continues after video.

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Record rental costs, and tenant-vetting proved a stumbling block.

"I needed a rental around $350 to $450 per week, but I was competing against dual-income families and about 50 other applications. So with a good job, reasonable income, I still got nowhere. I wasn’t even getting past the first step," Sam said.

"Even my dog had rental references from the local postman and delivery driver."

CEO of NSW Tenants Union, Leo Patterson Ross said Sam’s is a common plight.

"If an applicant is deemed slightly less attractive, and that could be something as simple as having kids, the application can be bumped down the list. There’s little transparency around the process. It’s unlawful discrimination, but there’s nothing in place to prevent it," he said.

Sam’s only short-term option was a women’s refuge, which meant splitting the family.

Her sons went to live with their father, while Sam and her daughter prepared to enter the refuge, before an associate stepped in and offered them a spare room.

"They were my heroes. I was lucky to have them, as I became very sick over Christmas from the stress of being homeless," she said.

After 18 weeks apart, the family was reunited and placed in temporary housing, "which is not permanent, but it’s a roof over our head," she said.


"I can only have it for 18 months, and have to sign a new lease every three months. To keep it, I have to continue to apply for houses in the private market and do an eight-week Mission Australia course on tenancy, budgeting and shopping."

Mandy Booker, CEO of Wollongong Homeless Hub, says she has seen many cases like Sam's. 

One of her organisation’s clients, Jessica*, is a Masters-educated lecturer at university and is also experiencing homelessness, following the end of her 33-year marriage.

She sleeps in her car and is desperate to keep her plight from family and friends.

Mandy said she’s applied for over eighty rentals but, with no rental history, has not received a single call-back. 

"Jessica* is trying to maintain her professional image, while seeking help from welfare agencies. She can’t get help because she makes too much to be eligible for housing assistance from the government, but not enough to make rent," she said.

Jessica* and Sam are just two in the growing ranks of ‘new’ homeless, sleeping rough, in cars, on trains, in caravans, or tents in friend’s backyards, due in no small part they say, to spiralling rental costs, which according to last quarter’s Domain Rent Report, has seen Sydney unit rental prices jump by 19 per cent in a year.

And while landlords enjoy the longest stretch of continuous rental price growth in our history, 52,000 people on the general housing waiting list could languish for up to ten years, awaiting a property, NSW Tenancy Union spokesman, Leo, said. 


According to Dr Nicola Powell, Domain’s Chief of Economics and Research, the cause is multi-faceted.

"High purchasing prices locking people into the rental market longer, increased home loan costs being passed onto tenants… investors cashing in on the recent price boom, and rental demand being boosted by the return of international students and overseas migration," she said.

When mental health considerations and domestic violence are the compounding, not core, issue.

Another victim of the system is 52-year-old Anna*.

After renting in the Hunter Valley for seven years, a 50 per cent rent hike forced her out last year. 

Recently hospitalised for severe anxiety, Anna spoke via Mandy, saying she’s spent the last nine months living and sleeping in her car and parking overnight in fast-food restaurant car parks, just to stay safe.

"She’s going to community centres or to the beach to get showered. She has chronic, complex mental health and medical issues. She can’t get in to see a psychologist until August, and has ended up now in ED for her mental health," Mandy said.

"She had her government payments cut because she didn’t have a forwarding address to meet her reporting requirements (which have since been reinstated). She’s just so fatigued. You’re not getting enough sleep when you’re sleeping in your car for months on end."

Multicultural Domestic and Family Violence Specialist for Illawarra WDVCAS (Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service), Beth Roman, reported that an increasing number of women asking for help are also victims of domestic violence.


"Services are currently overwhelmed, and hamstrung by a lack of government housing. We are struggling for referral pathways without long waiting lists for women and children fleeing domestic violence situations," she said.

"It’s not good enough that some kids are being left without somewhere to sleep."

"We have clients who’ve applied for 15 different places, and even if they finally get accepted, they can’t afford it, because rents are still spiralling."

Start Safely is a private rental subsidy for people escaping domestic or family violence, but housing stocks are low.

"There’s nowhere for them to go. They end up sleeping in cars, short-term options or returning to perpetrators. Women for a long time have been employed in areas that are lower paid. Now you’ve got increased rents and mortgages – they’re the ones who are most vulnerable," Mandy said.

So what are the options?

It’s a competitive process, but displaced tenants can join queues for new properties, however tenant-screening, high prices, rent-bidding and supply issues means many still miss out, according to Leo.

There is a general and priority government housing waitlist, but in some regions, the wait is more than ten years. Even if assessed as needing priority housing, applicants can wait up to 18 months.


Government-funded crisis accommodation is available, for 28 days each 12 months.

"It’s not a lot of time when you’re trying to sort your life out. They can get stints in dribs and drabs, a few days at a time, and all the while, have to prove to the system that they’re trying to resolve their own temporary homelessness," Mandy said.

The other options include boarding houses, hotels and caravan parks – however, agency workers claim these may be impacted by the holidays, when properties are holiday-let, and hotels and vans are vacated to make way for more lucrative holiday-maker rates.

"By the time they get to reapply in February, the rent has increased to a point where they just can’t afford to go back into it," Mandy said.

"They end up sleeping rough, they are couch surfing, they are sleeping on the trains, because they feel it’s safe and warm and there’s some security on the trains."

"It’s really shortsighted that we’re calling it a rental crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis. We’re going to see the ramifications for decades," Mandy Booker said.

Listen: The Quicky looks at why we don't have enough houses to go around and what can be done to ensure everyone has a roof over their heads. Post continues after podcast.

What is the answer?

"We have to better utilise some under-utilised spaces. We need to make sure that the current social housing stock is brought up to a standard that is more than what they currently deem safe and habitable. We have an ageing stock of housing but small cottages on large blocks that could potentially be turned into units and help ten families instead of one," Mandy said.


Leo agreed there must be a major shift in thinking by government and industry. He said houses must be seen as a basic or essential service, like food and water. 

"People are desperate for shelter. We need to end no-grounds evictions, look at rent-setting models and the government needs to ensure an abundant supply of quality housing to meet the community’s needs," he said.

Needs, when not met, can have catastrophic long-term effects, according to Sam.

"When I was offered temporary accommodation, I didn’t care what the house looked like or where it was. It meant that I could have my three children all back under one roof. The boys were suffering depression, anxiety and abandonment issues. They always thought I was going to leave them," she said.

"We talk about the housing stock and we talk about the bricks and mortar, and we really forget what impact this is going to have on our communities and social structure, with parents and children living in housing stress or crisis. Over the next decade, it will shape the experiences of another generation," Mandy said.

Feature Image: Supplied.