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A Bendigo family facing homelessness has described the toll a fruitless search for affordable housing has taken on their emotional wellbeing.
Tara McGrath moved into an Epsom rental property with her husband and three children in 2012.
But the family of five was issued with a 120-day notice to vacate the house late last year, just months after Ms McGrath’s husband was retrenched.
They have just one more month to find alternative shelter before they find themselves homeless.
But despite submitting 13 rental applications and seeking assistance from the state’s public housing authorities, the family remains without a place to which they can relocate.
Ms McGrath believed landlords refused her tenancy on financial grounds; rent payments had fallen two weeks in arrears since her husband was laid off.
“We’re still applying even though we know we'll get knocked back, because we don't know what else to do,” she said, adding that the ordeal was “very hard” on her and her children.
Two of Ms McGrath’s children live with autism, while she suffers from chronic pain, both conditions she said the stress of house-hunting had exacerbated.
Almost 1200 other people in Bendigo are on a waitlist for community housing.
Haven; Home, Safe acting chief executive officer Niall Hensey said families were part of a rising homeless trend and could face waits of up to one year before a long-term option became available.
The longest waits were experienced by those needing single bedroom homes, but a shortage of four-plus bedroom stock also left large families in the cold, Mr Hensey said.
“Many families endure their situation in housing stress, because the alternative is to be homeless,” he said.
“For those who cannot, rental arrears can lead to eviction.”
If they cannot secure a new home before their February 25 moving date, the McGrath family will bide their time in a friend’s caravan that they will park on a corner of another loved one’s block of land.
The site does not have water or electricity.
“It's kind of the last ditch effort,” Ms McGrath said.
“I’m not entirely sure how that will go for their mental health, to be honest.”
Until then they are relying on gifts of food and money from family members to get by.
Saltworks Eaglehawk volunteer Ian Shelton said the cost of living, including rent, was cause for many people to seek out his organisation’s community pantry.
Saltworks grocery donations fed almost 250 people every week in 2016.
He said the demand for services like his was not manageable.
“As much as we do what we do, it doesn't really address all of the financial needs and concerns of any family,” Mr Shelton said.
“There's not enough we can give to really beat the problem.”
Asked what she would tell the real estate and housing sectors if given the chance, Ms McGrath said: “Be willing to give us a chance to rent a house.
“We're not looking for handouts or special treatments, but a chance would be nice.”
She also objected to media portrayals of the homeless as “bludgers”, which she said were not characteristic of her family.
Despite her chronic pain making work difficult, Ms McGrath did not qualify for a disability pension, and while her husband continued applying for jobs, he continued to be turned away by every employer he approached.
He also completed a short course of study in the hope it would make him more employable.
“We've worked really hard to build a life here,” she said.