A new British movie featuring Maggie Smith has been released by homeless support services to highlight the injustice of people living in cars. The film The Lady in the Van focuses on the true story of Mary Shepherd who lived in a van for 15 years during the 1970 and 80s in England.
The situation of a person living in a van or car is not uncommon in Australia, but there are growing concerns that a decrease in affordable accommodation and a growing public housing waitlist will see more people resorting to living in their vehicles.
In an interview with The Age yesterday, 67 year old pensioner Stan Hawrylak described the dangers he faces everyday living in his Holden sedan. Recent occurrences are; attempted muggings, semi-trailers almost running over his car and 3am wake up knocks on the window from the police looking to take down his name.
Stan is content with his lifestyle. While he admits a simple flat with a bedroom and toilet would be more comfortable, there are people doing it far worse than he is. Spending his days reading in libraries, the former meatworker is happy to have a roof over his head at night so that he doesn’t feel the cold.
Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith suggests Stan’s situation is not an isolated case. “We hear of hundreds of cases each year of people being forced to sleep in their cars because they simply have nowhere else to go. Often older single people end up couch surfing, in their car, or in potentially dangerous illegal rooming houses, while they wait for secure housing, which can be months to years. Investment in safe housing that is affordable for singles is an urgent priority.” she said.
Wintringham Specialist Aged Care communications manager Julia Mazur noted a particular rise in the risk of homelessness among older women. “We’ve noticed women in their 60s is a group that’s on the rise of being at risk of homelessness. They’re in unaffordable rent, their rent falls into arrears [and] suddenly they are one step away from being evicted.” She said.
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There are four core necessities that any Australian should have if they are in need – food, water, shelter and clothing. Stan considers himself lucky because, by living in a car, he has a roof over his head every night – and that is very much the truth.
All around Australia there are people worse off than Stan, without a roof over their head, forced to brave the cold of night and the dangers that come with sleeping out in the open.
Neither situation is acceptable nor what is best for Australia. The growing public housing list of over 32,000+ is proof that more effort needs to be made to provide affordable housing for those most in need. A roof over their head, running water and a bed to sleep in should be the basics afforded to every Australian.
What do you think? Have you heard of anyone you know resorting to living in their car? Should there be a focus on building more public housing, and if so, how would you fund it? Would you be happy to have someone like Maggie Smith’s character in The Lady in the Van sleeping in your driveway?