On 25 May, the body of yet another young woman was found in a Melbourne park. Her name was Courtney Herron. She was only 25, had struggled with addiction issues and she was homeless.

Courtney is the fourth woman to be found murdered in a public place in Melbourne in the last year. Like those of Aiia Maasarwe, Natalina Angok and Eurydice Dixon, Courtney’s murder has raised the ongoing issue of violence against women. But it has also shone a light on the housing crisis and the vulnerability of women who are sleeping rough.

The average person who is seeking crisis accommodation in Australia is a 25 to 34-year-old woman. Many of these women are experiencing mental illness, struggling with addiction or fleeing domestic violence situations. But each night, half of all women seeking a bed are turned away from crisis accommodation services. In Melbourne alone there are only 423 crisis accommodation beds but close to 2000 people sleeping rough each night.

These overstretched services are also being let down by the lack of public housing. There are around 400,000 social housing properties across Australia, but density has barely grown in the past 20 years despite the increasing demand. In Victoria alone there are 82,500 people on the waiting list for public housing. Their waiting time could be ten months or it could be ten years.

At the last census night in 2016, there were 116,000 people who were homeless. And on that same night, there were one million homes left empty across Australia because the system is set up to favour investors. 

For many people, housing is simply unaffordable. An Anglicare report released this year showed that out of 69,000 rental properties, only two, both of them in regional Australia, were considered affordable for people living on Youth Allowance or Newstart.

But the government isn’t doing much to help. Victoria’s Council to Homeless Persons estimate the state government needs to be investing in 3000 social housing properties per year to make a dent in the unmet need. But it has shamefully only committed to an additional 1000 properties by 2022.

We need a strong public housing system that doesn’t leave people’s homes in the hands of the market or push people into overstretched crisis accommodation. Because Courtney, like so many women across Australia, should have had a warm bed to sleep in that night.

By Ruby Wawn

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