Somewhere along the line, with the increasing commodification of housing, and the unaffordable market in Sydney, we seem to have forgotten that housing, like education, is a human right. In NSW, there are an estimated 30,000 – 40,000 People seeking Asylum, waiting for their protection claims to be processed. The waiting period is 2 years on average if they arrived by plane and 4-6+ years, if by boat between 2012 and 2014. Approximately 5% people waiting are receiving a Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) payment equivalent to 89% of the JobSeeker payment, as income support.
These people do not have any access to social housing and very limited access to crisis and temporary housing options, and many fall into homelessness and most are at risk.
The current COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated this situation with people seeking asylum predominantly employed in industries which have been significantly affected (such as hospitality, retail and construction) and further because they are not eligible for any of the Federal Government’s stimulus package.
In November 2019, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS), Life Without Barriers and Asylum Seekers Centre partnered to scope alternative housing options for People seeking Asylum in Sydney. The project examined ways to increase the number of people housed by organisation’s emergency payment funds, currently disbursed to clients in highest need.
In assessing where to intervene, the project examined the context of our clients in terms of:
- family type (singles, couples, families with children),
- their stage of seeking asylum (primary or post-review),
- whether people had work-rights and
- additional barriers e.g. extended hospitalisations or women experiencing sexual or gender-based violence (SGBV).
The project prioritised options for vulnerable clients i.e. women and children experiencing Domestic or Family violence through exploring the capacity of Domestic Violence services to accommodate women seeking asylum; and alternatives for more resilient clients i.e. single and couples in early stages of seeking asylum and with work rights, through exploring alternative community-based housing options including online platforms like The Room Xchange facilitating accommodation in exchange for work and Home-sharing through community networks like Refugees Welcome Australia (RWA).
Key findings of the Report:
(a) Survey of DV services to support Women affected by SGBV
- Of the 253 rooms available across the services which responded to the survey, 4% were occupied by Women seeking Asylum and 25% by Women on other temporary visas. Under current financial operating models of the services a further 9% of rooms could be occupied by women without an income (i.e. Women on temporary visas including those seeking Asylum).
- A lack of income was found to be a barrier and 9 services offered support if income to cover costs could be guaranteed (e.g. from JRS)
- A lack of space was found to be a barrier and 5 services offered support if accommodation was guaranteed elsewhere (e.g. through a community housing provider)
- 42% of services offered bilingual support through access to the Translation and Interpreting Service (TIS) and in some cases through bi-lingual case-workers.
(b) Online Platforms facilitating Accommodation in Exchange for Work
The project recognises that options like accommodation in exchange for work are not without risk and the exploration of such options demonstrates the lack of a safety net and how few options there are for people seeking asylum who are at-risk of homelessness, a situation exacerbated in times of crisis.
- While the platforms are lawful, the exchange does constitute work under the Migration Act 1958. Therefore, these options would only be suitable for people with work rights.
- The project also noted that if organisations chose to make clients aware of the platforms, that they highlight relevant information on the websites about the platforms being only facilitators and the platforms not making any representations or giving any warranties about the suitability of hosts and the safety of the clients while staying with the hosts – effectively, making clear that the onus falls on the clients themselves to assess the suitability of hosts and to take precautions to secure their own safety.
A number of organisations exist in Sydney coordinating home-share arrangements between guests and willing hosts in a range of informal to formal frameworks. Refugees Welcome Australia (RWA) is a volunteer-run organisation that is working closely with interested communities to source sources and facilitate connections to people seeking asylum, who are in need of a room. The project sought to clarify referral pathways, communication channels and responsibility and liability for the guest and host. Organisations are keen to continue working with home-share programs like RWA and to connect clients to a home and to help build capacity of programs to continue to connect and inspire communities to support people seeking asylum.
The report was launched online on 26 March 2020 and included two round-tables to progress discussion and action on the Findings. Round-table topics included:
- DV Services: Discussion of Barriers for Women Seeking Asylum and Future Collaboration
- Home-Sharing: Supporting Better Practice
The Report includes a number of Calls to Action in the short and long term, which we are interested to progress. These include:
- A list of low-cost accommodation is compiled for Western Sydney & updated weekly
- Increased collaboration with DV sector based on recent findings
- Increase support of & collaborations with organisations and communities offering home-share programs
- Client awareness and capacity in securing and maintaining housing in increased through training and workshops
- Housing options for people who are post-review (i.e. in later stages of their asylum-seeking process) is explored
- A bond / short-term loan fund created to support people to move to private rental
- Eligibility and access to all NSW Government housing and homelessness services
- Narrative of overcrowding changed (from risk to opportunity-based)
- Increased housing supply (new developments, affordable housing, social housing)
Read the report here. For further information or to discuss collaboration, please contact Anjali Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org