Housing crisis

Demand for emergency motel accommodation increases as South Africa’s regional housing crisis continues

Temporary accommodation can be a lifeline for those trying to get back on their feet after relationship breakdowns, domestic violence, death in the family, drug and alcohol addictions and loss of life. job or home.

Milang Lakes Motel owner Chris Parsons knows this all too well, having provided emergency housing for those in need for years.

Accepting referrals through the Junction Australia team, he sees both Milang locals and foreigners at his motel on the shore of Lake Alexandrina for emergency stays, alongside regular guests.

“We had a couple who came here a few years ago who had spent that winter – they arrived in September – they had spent that winter in a tent with two small children,” says Chris.

“It’s so much easier for them to end up getting involved in ice cream or something, and it completely destroys them.”

Milang is a small community of less than 1,000 people on Lake Alexandrina, South Australia.(ABC News: Alice Dempster)

Like others working alongside aid agencies, Chris has had to develop a huge set of social support skills to help those who come to his doorstep, many of whom he says have “been through hell”. and just want to stay somewhere safe.

He’s learned that the best way to provide some semblance of stability is to offer people a sympathetic ear and establish firm ground rules while they’re there — with an explicit ban on drugs.

“You can be the nicest person in the world and all they’ll do is walk all over you,” he says.

“For people who are traumatized or desperate, the first thing that happens when they change environments is that they want to know what the ground rules are.

“If you give them nice, firm, soft, decent boundaries, it doesn’t take long before they start to realize it’s OK.

Local Junction Australia staff help homeless clients find emergency accommodation or help them with food and equipment to stay safe.

Staff help the most vulnerable in the community, such as singles with children or families, at motels like Chris’s.

At one time he had “a community of children”, about five or six, temporarily staying with their families at the motel.

“Where possible, through our negotiations with motels, we are able to help customers find temporary motel accommodation at discounted rates, which they can fund themselves, said one. Junction spokesperson.

“In some cases we can access financial assistance from the South Australian Housing Authority to help us pay for housing.”

Communities are mobilizing

Up the road from Chris, the Old School Milang Community Center offers extra support for locals and temporary residents who are trying hard, in the form of food and links to housing assistance.

Center director Stuart Jones says staff and volunteers have also noticed an increase in the number of people seeking help.

A man wearing a mask, jeans and a polo shirt holds a large freezer full of food open
Milang Old School House Community Center manager Stuart Jones shows some of the donated food stored for those in need.(ABC News: Alice Dempster)

“Once they’re there [in Milang]it can be a real struggle, especially if they have mental health issues,” he says.

“We have emergency relief here, so we’re seeing a lot of people coming in for food, if they’re stuck between Centrelink payments or having work issues.”

The center depends on donations from the community, with a nearby supermarket collecting food for distribution.

“Community donations – especially during COVID – have been great, we had a few people donate their extra payment which was really sweet, and one of our elderly care customers made a donation of $10 per fortnight.”

Helping people “feel a little better”

South Australia’s housing crisis has “significantly” increased demand for emergency accommodation in regional areas, says Chris.

After starting with just one of its 12 rooms reserved for emergency stays, it now has five.

Pragmatically, he says the increased occupancy rate has been good for his business during the pandemic, which has had a big impact on other players in the hospitality industry.

“We’ve lost money over the last two years, but we’ve managed to stay afloat because we’ve had these people coming in,” he says.

But although he’s happy to help, he says he wouldn’t want to stay in a small room with several people for long, describing it as a “pressure cooker” for those already in low spirits.

An open lime green door with two double beds beyond, with folded towels sitting on top
Chris says motel rooms aren’t designed for multiple people to live in for long, but it’s better than nothing.(ABC News: Alice Dempster)

“People who come here and start to feel a little better, you really want them to yearn for something better, to not think of themselves as here all the time,” he says.

“It’s really kind of encouraging to try to convey to them that we’re happy they’re here, and what we want them to do is find something better.

“To build an expectation that it’s possible to improve and that it’s possible to move on from living in a shitty little motel.”