ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Unaffordable housing and homelessness dim the lights in the festive season

27 November 2015

Joint media release: My Vote For Housing Campaign - ACTCOSS & ACT Shelter

As Canberra families gather to watch our city attempt to break the Guinness Book of Records title for the world’s most lights on an artificial Christmas tree tonight, community organisations around Canberra have joined together to publish fact sheets that highlight the other side of Canberra during the festive season – people less able to enjoy the season because they face extreme housing stress or homelessness. 

The fact sheets are part of a campaign called My Vote For Housing which is an initiative of ACTCOSS and ACT Shelter inviting voters and candidates to consider housing and homelessness as key issues in next year’s ACT election. 

According to Susan Helyar, Director of the ACT Council of Social Service: “Many of us look forward to spending a bright Christmas with our families there are groups of Canberrans facing an uncertain future due to housing stress, homelessness and housing poverty. 

“These include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, older people, women, younger people, and newly arrived refugees. ACT community groups have come together to ask Canberrans to remember people for whom the lights don’t shine quite so brightly during the festive season.”

The Executive Director of COTA ACT, Jenny Mobbs, said the fact sheets revealed that, “Older people trapped in the private rental market or who are still paying off a mortgage into retirement may be at risk of homelessness or housing crisis. Older people with acquired brain injury or neurological and degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia are also vulnerable to experiencing homelessness[1].”

The Director of the Early Morning Centre in Civic, Chris Stockman, said it was a tragedy that, “People with lengthy histories of sleeping rough die prematurely. In some cases this can be more than 20 years sooner than their peers with a stable housing history[2]. Premature deaths are primarily due to the early onset of significant respiratory problems and chronic illnesses such as arthritis[3].”

The fact sheets highlight experiences of women, highlighting that gender inequality and domestic violence expose women to homelessness and housing crisis[4].

Marcia Williams, Executive Officer of the Women’s Centre for Health Matters said: “Just under 800 women were counted as experiencing homelessness in the ACT on Census night[5].”

In addition, Emma Robertson, Director of the Youth Coalition of the ACT, said that, “Young women aged 15-24 have the highest rate of presentation to Specialist Homelessness Services of any demographic. Domestic and family violence and sexual assault are the main reasons young women indicate they need assistance[6].”

Travis Gilbert, Executive Officer for ACT Shelter, said, “These facts are a poignant reminder that affluence in our city is not shared by all and that we need to make a real effort to reduce homelessness, ensure people in a housing crisis can get support and increase affordable housing. We want everyone in Canberra to be confident they have a place to call home during the festive season.”   

Voters are invited to gain a greater understanding of homelessness and housing stress in our city.

As candidates gain preselection, and parties develop their election platform, community organisations ask them to commit to making housing and homelessness a priority in the coming campaign. The following commitments are being sought of all candidates and parties:

  • Provide adequate funding for housing and homelessness services to meet demand
  • Ensure each ACT Government Directorate contributes to improving housing outcomes in our city by allocating funds and reporting on how each portfolio contributes to reducing homelessness and/or increasing affordable housing
  •  Maximise the growth of affordable and accessible housing, especially rental housing.

The new fact sheets can be found at


For comment please contact:

Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.

Travis Gilbert, Executive Officer, ACT Shelter Inc on 0420 699 405 or 02 6247 3727


Authorised by Susan Helyar My Vote For Housing is an initiative of ACTCOSS and ACT Shelter.



[1] Alzheimer’s Australia (nd), Homelessness and Dementia, Online Video Resource produced by Alzheimer’s Australia South Australia for Alzheimer’s Australia, accessed November 2015, <>.

[2] Thoman, B Dr (2012), Homelessness Kills: An analysis of the mortality of homeless people in twenty-first century England, University of Sheffield, London, accessed November 2015, <>.

[3] Ibid, pp.16-18. See also City of Melbourne (2014), Street Count 2014: Final Report, Melbourn, Victoria, p.19, <>.

[4] Homelessness Australia (2013), Homelessness and Women Fact Sheet, accessed June 2015, <>.

[5] ABS, Census of Population and Housing (2012), Estimating Homelessness 2011, Cat. No.2049.0, ‘Definitions of Homelessness’, pp.74 -76.

[6] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014), Specialist Homelessness Services 2013/14, Cat. no. HOU 276. Canberra, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, accessed July 2015, <>.