Housing crisis faces Tasmanian women and children fleeing unsafe domestic situations, but some hope on horizon
After leaving a toxic relationship, Amy Bourke was desperate to find a home that would give her son Chance some stability.
They managed to get crisis accommodation with the Hobart Women's Shelter, but finding a long-term home was a mammoth task.
"Private housing is very high in price, and it's pretty hard to compete with families who've got two incomes," she said.
"I was on priority one [social housing] waiting list, I'd put down every single suburb selection that I could, I was going to all the appointments.
"I was doing everything I could but I felt like I was getting nowhere."
Crisis accommodation through homelessness shelters is meant to be for three months, but Ms Bourke and her son ended up spending nine months in shelters before they found somewhere to live.
"To have the security and stability for Chance is really important to me and I'm very happy that I've got that now," she said.
Nowhere to go after crisis accommodation
Between July 2021 and the end of April, 1,029 women and children sought assistance from Hobart Women's Shelter.
But the shelter was only able to give 20 per cent of those families crisis accommodation — about 800 women and children were turned away.
Chief executive Janet Saunders said once women were in the shelter, there were few housing options to move on to.
"There are no exit points for them, there's no affordable housing, and there's a long wait list for the social housing register," Ms Saunders said.
She said about 48 per cent of the women approaching the shelter needed help because of family violence, and Hobart's housing affordability crisis — with high private rental prices and low vacancies — was also contributing.
In March, there were 4,405 people on Tasmania's social housing waitlist, and it was taking, on average, almost 18 months to house priority applicants.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare also showed that in 2020-21, women accounted for 72 per cent of those Tasmanians turned away from specialist homelessness services.
"There's a real feeling of helplessness," Ms Saunders said.
"We know that for women who are in an unsafe situation, we know their greatest fear of leaving a relationship where they're experiencing violence is that fear of homelessness.
Ms Saunders said the shelter provided information about other support services to those they turned away.
Emma Huang feels like one of the lucky ones.
She spent about eight weeks in crisis accommodation with the Hobart Women's Shelter last year, before she was able to find a share house.
"When I was staying here, one of the neighbours, she said she'd been in different shelters for nearly a year because she can't find a permanent house to stay," she said.
'I don't think I would have survived'
Bev is in her early 70s, and found herself homeless last year after she needed to break the lease on a poor quality private rental.
She'd been on the social housing waiting list for three years.
She spent what money she had on a removalist and a storage container, and then starting sleeping in her car in her niece's driveway.
A few days later, she got crisis accommodation at a caravan park, and then a unit at the Hobart Women's Shelter.
"I felt a bit guilty because I knew there was women out there with children who had nowhere to go — I thought, 'I've got a car, I can sleep in my car'."
She stayed there for three months, before she was able to secure a longer-term social housing unit.
Bev has health issues, and also received counselling at the shelter.
Durable homes delivered on the back of a truck
The women's shelter is working with Core Collective Architects and architect Christopher Clinton to develop a rapid-assembly, trauma-informed prototype for a home that could be easily replicated for different sites in Tasmania.
Architect Emily Ouston said they were balancing the need to deliver the homes quickly, with making them last a long time.
"It's designed so that it can be delivered on the back of a truck, or in various modules that make it efficient and cut down construction time," Ms Ouston said.
As well as seeking local products to avoid supply shortages and wait times for materials, Ms Ouston said they were designing the home to be low-maintenance, and energy efficient.
Construction could start on the first home in spring.
The Hobart Women's Shelter wants to double its housing units and provide 25 new long-term homes by 2024.
But to roll them out would take funding and land that's zoned for housing — something in short supply.
The Hobart Women's Shelter has purchased one block of land with donations, and is looking into solutions such as long leases from councils, or building on under-utilised council facilities such as car parks.
Federal Labor has made election promises for more social housing for women and children fleeing family violence, including $2 million in new funding for crisis accommodation in Hobart, while the Coalition's most recent federal budget committed $172 million for building and refurbishing emergency accommodation in Tasmania.
"We don't think the answer is about building more and more shelters," Ms Saunders said.
"It's about investing and building longer-term homes for people, which will then create better flow through and out of crisis shelters."
The women's shelter is talking with local governments about options.
A spokesman said the Tasmanian government was investing $33 million a year into specialist homelessness services and would soon be convening a ministerial reference group to engage community groups and identify any gaps in services.
'It's getting cold out there'
After her experience, Emma Huang now volunteers at the shelter.
"I wanted to do some gardening to help, because last year was a really tough time for me and they gave me all the support to help me back to society."
Amy Bourke and Chance now have a rental home, close to parks and a school, and they've both benefited from the counselling services offered by the shelter.
They've been able to add a puppy, Oreo, to their family.
But she's worried about those who haven't been so lucky.
"It's getting cold out there and there's families that are living in tents and cars and I just feel for them."