How human rights can help prevent homelessness

6 Aug 2021

Through over 20 years of working with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, we have seen how human rights can play a critical role in preventing and ending homelessness.

Before the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires in Victoria and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness was already a challenge for so many in Victoria. These events compounded challenges for both people experiencing homelessness and services providing homelessness support.

Measures put in place by governments during COVID-19 saw many people experiencing or at risk of homelessness provided with legal protections against eviction, emergency accommodation, and financial supports. This demonstrated that with sufficient will on the part of the Victorian Government, it is possible to prevent and end homelessness.

In this context, we commend the far-reaching findings and recommendations in Victoria’s first ever Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness published in March 2021 that explicitly acknowledged the importance of human rights to prevent homelessness.

We have long advocated for a human rights-centred housing policy that recognises adequate housing as a fundamental human right.

The Victorian Charter of Human Rights (Charter) plays a critical role in the protection of renters’ human rights in social (public and community) housing. This is demonstrated through our client Connie’s story, who was able to avoid eviction into homelessness with the help of our negotiations based on the Charter.

We welcome the Inquiry’s key human-rights related recommendations made in March, many of which directly reflected our own evidence and recommendations including:

1. The Victorian Government should include the right to housing in the Charter

The right to adequate housing needs to be enshrined in Victorian law to explicitly recognise housing as a fundamental right.

2. Community housing providers should be recognised as public authorities for the purposes of the Charter

As some of the most vulnerable Victorians, it is vital for both public and community housing renters to have greater protections and security of tenure, and that decisions made about their housing are compatible with human rights.

3. VCAT should be given jurisdiction to consider whether eviction decisions for social housing renters is compliant with the Charter

The Charter encourages consideration of a renter’s individual circumstances and allows these considerations to be balanced against the competing obligations of social housing providers. Giving VCAT jurisdiction to consider Charter rights would encourage social housing providers to comply with their human rights obligations.

For more detail, read our evidence-based position paper that we submitted to the Inquiry, which shared stories and insights from 47 former clients, and built on our appearance at the initial public hearing.

Read our position paper