The Guardian • Issue #2098

Homeless Police and Health Care Workers

State-Owned Housing is the solution in Queensland

Photo: Kgbo – Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Homelessness is common throughout Queensland. It even impacts those with full-time work. The situation is so bad that homelessness now impacts police officers and health care workers. That people on a good income are homeless says a lot about the problem now being faced in the Sunshine State.

One case is a police officer who was transferred to Mackay. Unable to find accommodation, he purchased an RV (recreational vehicle) to live in. The problem was that all the caravan parks were full. He ended up parking next to the river to live, and driving each day to work.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) pays an entry level police officer $79,721 a year, and First Year Constable $84,999. New recruits receive a cost-of-living allowance of $183 per fortnight, and all accommodation costs at police academies for live-in recruits are waived. Up to $20,000 is paid towards the cost of relocation from other jurisdictions. QPS has some accommodation of its own, but not every officer can use it.

The Queensland Nurses and Midwifery Union (QNMU) secretary, Beth Mohle, says the rental crisis is affecting health services in rural communities. A Queensland Health spokesperson acknowledged that worker shortages were the greatest obstacle to sustaining regional, rural, and remote health services. “It’s a critical issue and we really need to actually have government turn their attention to this,” she said.

According to ABC News there is a woman in Theodore, 200 kilometres from Rockhampton, who has a permanent full-time job at the local hospital but is now homeless, unable to find accommodation. State Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the government was building more accommodation to try and combat the issue. Healthcare workers, “will be supported by a $115 million injection into the delivery of staff accommodation,” Aimee McVeigh of Queensland Council of Social Services says that regional Queensland is the most expensive part of Australia to live. McVeigh wants the government to work with the private sector to supply affordable housing.

Queensland’s Labor government is not doing nothing about this, but it’s not doing anywhere near enough. There are plans to add more than 53,000 homes to the state’s social (not public) housing stock over the next two decades. In the last year the government has built 485 social homes. Labor has also announced more support “for those struggling to find a home in the private rental market,” and announced some changes to laws;  rent bidding will be banned, and a rental sector code of conduct will set out the obligations of rental property owners.

Before the 1980s the government provided free accommodation for regional workers, such as railway station masters, nurses, health care workers, midwives, teachers, and police officers. State-owned properties provided a very useful service to state employees and rural communities. With the rise of neoliberalism, these properties were sold off to private enterprise at low prices. We are now facing the consequences, not only in Queensland, but across all Australia.

We need to bring back state-owned housing for workers in rural communities. The private housing sector has not solved the homelessness problem, but greatly aggravated it. The Miles Labor government acknowledges the problem but refuses to invest in the necessary public housing to fix it.

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