Waverly Gazette

14 December 1999, p4

Middle classes also at risk

Waverley Gazette (Melbourne)

Middle-income earners are joining the ranks of those at risk of becoming homeless, according to a Monash welfare agency.

Wheelers Hill Family Centre helped more than 130 clients last year through the Supporting Homeless Individuals and Families in Transition program.

The program catered for single adults, couples and families in the cities of Monash, Knox and the former shire of Sherbrooke, who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

But team leader Leigh Woolcock said that many of those seeking help did not fit traditional stereotypes.

"People tend to think of crime, of the bloke with the bottle of wine in the park. In fact it's far more invasive of society than these people," she said.

"It could be and will continue to expand into the area of the middle-class group of people who can no longer afford stable housing and don't have jobs.

"As we move into the new millenium there are going to be more people who don't have acess to higher education, who don't have a secure, steady income or access to a lifestyle that implies having a house, and back yard for life. There's a growing underclass of economically disadvantaged people and our politicians have to address that."

Ms Woolock said many clients were middle-class people who faced traumas that threatened their stability.

Marriage breakdown was a major factor, especially when parents struggled to cope with grief, pay bills and care for children with special needs. Some situations also involved domestic violence and child protection issues.

Unexpected accidents and illness left some independent people jobless but burdened with medical expenses and needing carers. Retrenchment and moves towards short-term job contracts affected those in traditionally secure jobs such as banking and teaching.

Other risk groups included people with psychiatric illnesses or intellectual disabilities, those recently out of prison or drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres who had limited support networks.

Ms Woolcock said she feared homelessness had become a "generational" issue with many parents unable to give their children a stable home or an education ot escape the cycle.