Hobart councillor Holly Ewin represents the changing face of homelessness


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Hobart councillor Holly Ewin says she has been forced to live on a boat because of the tight rental market in the city. PICTURE CHRIS KIDD

HOLLY Ewin is young, educated and self-employed. But the Hobart City councillor is also homeless.

When the 27-year-old gave evidence before a parliamentary committee on housing affordability last week, the words came from experience.

Cr Ewin has been forced to live on a boat, without a shower or toilet, because of Tasmania’s housing crisis.

About 18 months ago Cr Ewin tried to break into the rental market, but was rejected at every turn.

“My lease was up, but they were not going to renew it,” Cr Ewin said.

“I applied for about 30 different properties and got no bites and had nowhere to go, and no options left.”

The university student, who also has a florist business, said many friends and fellow students were in a similar position.

“There are people on my Facebook every day asking ‘Does anybody know anywhere to stay?’

“They are in crowded house sharing arrangements, couch surfing or in caravans”.

Cr Ewin, who has no nautical background, said the boat idea came out of desperation – and the advertisement for the $12,000 motor trailer appeared online when other options were drying up.

“I did it as a creative solution to stop homelessness … the only boat I’d ever been on before was the Spirit of Tasmania.”

The experience of living in a 29-foot (8.8m) wooden boat has some upsides: “It’s nice being rocked to sleep”.

But sharing toilet facilities, at the end of the marina where she is berthed, is a cold reality in the middle of the night.

“It’s hard when you have to walk four minutes to the toilet in the rain in the night.”

While Cr Ewin at least has a roof, Shelter Tasmania says the experience of living below minimum housing standards is classified as “tertiary homelessness” – and also includes people living in boarding houses and caravan parks.

Secondary homelessness includes those in shelters and couch surfing, while primary homelessness are those sleeping rough or in tents.

The experience of homelessness is increasing for young people in Tasmania, with data from Shelter Tasmania showing the majority of homeless people are aged less than 44.

Young people aged 12 to 24 comprise 25 per cent of all Tasmanians experiencing homelessness, while 25 to 34 year olds represent 17 per cent.

Cr Ewin said homelessness had many faces, and the crisis gripping Tasmania was hurting people from all walks of life.

“There is a changing face of homelessness … it’s happening to families, it’s happening to professionals.

“Homelessness isn’t just sleeping out on a park or out on the street.”

Cr Ewin said it was personally difficult to accept, but it could be worse.

“There’s a lot of shame around homelessness as well. At first I felt like it was some sort of personal failing.

“But I was really lucky and privileged to be able to buy the boat in the first place.”

In a submission to the House of Assembly Select Committee on Housing Affordability, Cr Ewin said there should be a cap on rents.

“Housing is not a right, nor a privilege; it is a basic human need,” the submission says.

Among the recommendations in the submission is a freeze on rent prices, as done in Berlin, to stop inflation overtaking wage growth.

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