Peninsula Community Housing board member and caravan park resident Wayne Iremonger with PCH founder Russell Joseph.
Homelessness is not something reserved for one sector of the community. It can happen to anyone and it’s on the rise. Russell Joseph, the founder of not-for-profit organisation Peninsula Community Housing, says: “The cohort of people vulnerable to homelessness has increased dramatically, particularly through COVID.” PCH reports that as of October last year there were 2000 people experiencing varying degrees of homelessness on the Mornington Peninsula. Russell and a committed group of businesses and individuals are on a mission to do something about it.
“We started out looking at housing for people living with disabilities,” he says. “Now we are seeing women with young children – some leaving domestic violence situations – who are homeless. These include educated women who didn’t expect to be homeless, living in a tent on the foreshore with their children. Twelve months ago they were a normal middle-class family. The other cohort that’s increasing is older women who are on their own, and they don’t have superannuation and can barely afford the $350 a week rent, and that’s now going up to $400 and $450.”
Russell has a background in building and construction and had a stint working in government. Through his work in government Russell saw first hand the issues faced by people vulnerable to homelessness. He also saw the systemic barriers to this cohort of people seeking safe, affordable, and permanent accommodation. This drove him to action, and he set about creating PCH based on an alternative funding model for affordable housing, a financially sustainable model that would be ongoing and locally managed.
There are a couple of ways PCH is working to achieve its goals. One is working with donors/investors who put money in as capital to purchase accommodation and then receive a small return on investment. “There has to be zero or minimal commercial debt, otherwise the numbers just don’t work.” Builder and philanthropist James Hazelwood, the founder of Hazelwood Homes, jumped at the chance to support PCH. “We wanted to be able to do what we love in our business and to give back,” James says. “We knew we wanted to support homeless people and when we heard about Peninsula Community Housing we wanted to get involved because of their sustainable model. It meant it would be long-lasting and didn’t rely solely on grants.” With James’ support and that of other investors, PCH has recently been able to purchase a property in Rosebud that it will develop to affordably house up to three young families in need.
The other way PCH is addressing homelessness is providing tiny homes that can be put in people’s backyards or on vacant land and then have tenants pay an affordable rent. “We have some landowners who are prepared to do this,” Russell says. “We’re working with the shire to make sure we don’t contradict any planning scheme issues. It’s absolutely the most economical way to house someone because you don’t have to buy any land. Homelessness reflects on all of us in the community. If we treat our community like a family, it’s important everyone is looked after, and providing basic, secure housing is a fundamental core need.”
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