Housing crisis worries advocates who say children are being raised in tents and trailers

The worsening housing crisis across regional Australia has advocates concerned it will have lasting generational impacts on children today.

The Whitsundays in northern Queensland are just one of the areas crying out for a solution.

Like many in the Queensland region, Rebecca Woods of the Whitsunday Neighborhood Center says families are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

“Last year, just before Christmas, we were supporting a client living in a tent and expecting a child,” Ms Woods said.

“She had to bring her newborn baby home to a tent.

Housing groups say children make up nearly half of the area’s homeless community.

Rebecca Woods says families who have never cared about housing are struggling to find housing.(ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Worse than a nightmare

The Chugg family knows the difficulty of raising homeless children.

Father-of-six Stephen Chugg said it was worse than a nightmare.

Her family has been homeless for five years, since losing everything in Cyclone Debbie in March 2017.

“We walked away from that [rental] property with the clothes on the back and a car,” Chugg said.

a man and a woman are sitting in the front seat of their car
Marie Chugg says there is no social housing available and they are struggling to get a booking for a caravan park. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

As the region suffered a heat wave for the past fortnight, the Chuggs have been spending time in malls, libraries and swimming pools to cool off between home classes.

The children are aged 3 to 12 years old.

The family of eight lives in a trailer in the Mackay area and changes base regularly.

Marie Chugg said they had requested thousands of rentals from Gladstone to Cairns over the past year.

“There is no accommodation for a large family,” Ms Chugg said.

“We literally have nowhere to go.”

three children are sitting in the back seat of a car
The Chugg children have seen a lot of Australia while living in the trailer.(ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Ms Chugg said she was concerned about the effects of the situation on her children and feared losing them if they did not find a place to live soon.

“[Child safety officials] deemed the caravan unlivable but they cannot provide us [with] where to go,” Ms. Chugg said.

“The caravan parks won’t accept us because we’re too big a family and they don’t cater for children with special needs.

Tenants ordered to vacate

Ms Woods said average families, who had never worried about housing before, were being slapped with price increases or severance notices.

“We are very frustrated because there are no long-term solutions in sight,” Ms Woods said.

“We can’t suggest where they can go to get long-term accommodation. We can offer short-term solutions, but we know that won’t provide them with anything beyond a week.”

a woman carries a packing box through her front door
Claudia McHenry has to vacate her rental but she doesn’t know where she will go. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Claudia McHenry was in the process of starting a small business when she was told to move out of her Airlie Beach rental.

“Receiving notice was a major shock,” Ms McHenry said.

“I looked at properties for four weeks, did countless inspections, applied through various properties.

“I check the real estate page typically three times a day.”

She said it was stressful and she was trying not to think about becoming homeless.

“I went to inspections … and they end up canceling [them] because someone bid higher and they get the property.”

She said it was devastating that many residents were at risk of being driven out of the area.

a woman stands in her doorway looking with a serious expression at the camera
Claudia McHenry never thought she would be faced with the prospect of homelessness. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Non-profit community housing provider Whitsunday Housing Company said the number of people in need of help has increased by around 300-400% since the pandemic.

COO Joanne Moynihan said data collected between the company and the Bowen Neighborhood Center showed about 310 people showed up as homeless last year.

She said 140 of them were children.

“We have more and more people coming in who are not necessarily very low income earners, just average mums and dads with a few kids…they still can’t afford to rent the way it’s going.”

Drastically low vacancy rates

Mark Beale of Ray White Whitsunday said his office receives a dozen calls every day from people desperate for a house.

“In Airlie Beach, 12 months ago there were 114 properties for sale – now there are 54.

The rental vacancy rate in the area sits at 0.7%, and it’s by no means the tightest market in the state, especially after the flood crisis further south.

a man in a shirt looks at the camera
Mark Beale’s Ray White Whitsundays office gets a dozen calls a day from people in need of housing. (ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Queensland’s property industry said it was hard to remember a time when rates were so dramatically low across the state, citing changes in behavior during the pandemic.

Ms Woods said it would be devastating to see long-standing local families driven out.

“They have their lives invested here. They work here, their kids go to school here, they have sports teams here.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘If you want a roof over your head, you just have to pack up and move. “”

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