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Preventing homelessness in a housing crisis

The Kids Under Cover backyard studios program is an innovative way to keep families together while helping limit homelessness, writes Dr Alice Clark, and therefore needs continued funding.

Backyard studios are a much cheaper way to accommodate families than motels. Photo: supplied

Backyard studios are a much cheaper way to accommodate families than motels. Photo: supplied

In 2021 the South Australian Government had the foresight to create a fund to prevent homelessness. So much funding goes to crisis services, a focus on prevention was welcome.

Kids Under Cover (KUC) was awarded a contract to use their backyard studio homes to address overcrowding, which is a major issue for families who do not have enough room at home for everyone, especially all their children.

Overcrowded homes are a form of homelessness and can result in families fracturing, child protection issues and experiences of homelessness.

A state government media release in 2021 announced the studio program as part of the Homelessness Prevention Fund:

Relocatable studio accommodation to help young people avoid homelessness and a new private rental support pilot are the first innovative projects to be funded under the new $20 million State Government Homelessness Prevention Fund.

Kids Under Cover builds studios in the backyards of homes to assist families and carers in need of more room to accommodate the young people in their care, helping to keep families together and stop kids from leaving home before they’re ready.

The same media release flagged future funding rounds:

We look forward to offering future rounds of funding under the Homelessness Prevention Fund, as we keep encouraging new approaches to better support our most vulnerable South Australians.

The KUC studio program has operated successfully in Victoria for more than 30 years and was a welcome addition to our efforts to address homelessness here.

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Unfortunately, KUC were restricted by the state government from reaching the most vulnerable families in South Australia by initially allowing studios only on private properties.

The government was under the impression that all the Victorian studios were placed on private properties, but the majority, 70 per cent, were in public and community housing backyards.

Thankfully, the studios were eventually permitted on public land,  but the studio program has been restricted to the northern suburbs of Adelaide even though it is needed in every region.

I was privileged to visit a family who had a studio placed in their backyard, to accommodate a grandmother who was caring not only for her grandchildren of various ages up to adult, but also two of her great grandchildren.

The addition of the studio gave the older grandchildren the space and privacy they needed to live safely and healthily at home with their legal guardian.

We have hundreds of families stuck in motels without a home to go to. There are barriers to housing larger families in social housing, but with the addition of a studio, these barriers could be overcome while providing a much cheaper and more desirable way to accommodate families in a real home.

There is a huge amount of demand for the studios and applications are coming from child protection and other services working with families in crisis to help keep them together.

Thankfully, the studio program is really starting to fly with a pipeline of studios being built, there will be 20 in backyards by the end of June and 22 more shortly after that.

It makes sense to fund the studio program beyond its end of June expiry date to relieve overcrowding among families in need, to get families out of motels and into homes and ultimately prevent homelessness.

Dr Alice Clark is the Executive Director of Shelter SA.

Topics: homelessness
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