The South African government urged to tackle the housing crisis by a woman who spent years in homelessness

Jennifer Harris has spent nearly a fifth of her life without a home and now fears the same for her son.

Mrs. Harris lived in a rental property with her son 15 years ago, but when the lease expired in no time, it led to nearly a decade of homelessness.

“We had nowhere to live,” said Ms. Harris. “We slept in my car, stayed in caravan parks, and even started living in bars.”

With no luck in the rental market, Mrs. Harris had to make the hardest decision of her life to help her son.

“When he reached the twelfth grade, I had to put him with his father so that he could have a stable home and be able to finish his studies,” she said.

“It broke me. It almost took me.

“That was the last thing I had to live for.”

When Ms Harris called support services for help, they told her that her car had a “good enough” roof over her head.

“This roof has no toilet, bathroom or kitchen. Where do I eat? Where do I cook?” Mrs. Harris said.

The mother recently moved into social housing, but her son, Michael Harris, 24, is still unable to find stable housing.

“He’s still now struggling to find his home, too,” Ms Harris said.

“It’s unfortunate that the life he grew up in is what he considers normal.”

Protesters outside Parliament House support more public housing and freeze rent increases.(ABC News: Ethan Rex)

Ms Harris, speaking at a homelessness rally outside the South Australian Parliament, said not enough had been done to help people in similar situations.

“I don’t want anyone else to suffer because of what I did and [for] All this long, it’s not okay.”

More than 40 people, including those sleeping in the open, gathered to demand a freeze on rental rates and the expansion of public housing.

Opening empty houses

According to the state government, there are currently 84,000 vacant properties in South Australia and more than 6,000 people are homeless.

The state’s Secretary of Social Services, Nat Cook, is asking empty property owners to show “sympathy” and make them available for public housing.

Labor MP Nat Cook at Parliament House in South Australia.
Minister Nat Cook says state-owned homes will soon be available to homeless people.(News letters)

“We are appealing to the private market and good people of South Australia who may want to show some social awareness and open up their empty homes to someone who lives in them,” Cook said.

“we [the government] We are ready to invest $177.5 million over the next four years, not just to build 400 homes, but to bring 350 empty state-owned homes back into circulation.”

But Hutt Street Center CEO Chris Burns said that relying on people’s goodwill won’t be enough to solve the problem.

“I think we can afford to look at the incentives we can offer to people who own property to allow the homeless to rent their home,” said Mr. Burns.

“This could be subsidized rent, and it could be a tax break for those who rent homes…we have to look at all the options here.”

Financing solutions exist

While the number of available homes remains an issue, a report from Flinders University has found that a new funding program is successfully helping homeless people find long-term housing.

Aspire is a social impact model, which invites companies to invest in services like Hutt Street Center to extend their intensive support work from 6 months to 3 years per participant.

A woman sits surrounded by banners protesting the housing crisis on the steps of Parliament House
A protest march against the rent crisis was held outside Parliament House in South Australia today.(ABC News: Ethan Rex)

The report found that 369 of the 500 participants in Aspire have obtained rent since joining the program and that 93 percent of them are keeping their lease contracts.

Burns said his workers are spending more time supporting people to keep a roof over their heads for longer.

“People often forget, when they finally move into a home, how to take care of their budget and how to take care of themselves,” he said.

“With the Aspire model now, we’ll have better resources to make sure they can keep this home.”

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