The initiative helping agents end homelessness

Recent census data showed a 4.6 per cent rise in homelessness over the last five years, with over 100,000 people being shown as homeless on census night. That’s a figure that’s far too high, says Barry Liddle of Property Savers. He spoke with Hannah Blackiston about the Agents Help Homeless initiative.

“I’d noticed the homeless situation getting worse and worse – I think in the inner city over the last six years I’ve really been noticing it – but I’ve always thought it’s someone else’s responsibility. Someone else will deal with that. Then I realised I could actually do something about it, which is how the project started.

“I thought, here we are helping people buy, sell and rent properties day in, day out, when there’s this section of our community who are homeless. And I felt that as agents we could take this project on to eliminate, or transform the experience, that someone who finds themselves homeless has.”

That’s why Barry Liddle, an agent and founder of Property Savers, created Agents Help Homeless, an initiative which is helping end homelessness through the support of the real estate industry. Since it was created, Barry has already found support in Wesley Mission, with the charity partnering with Agents Help Homeless to ensure the funds are going to the right places.

Through talking with Wesley Mission, Barry realised just how big the problem is. Only seven per cent of people who are homeless are identified as ‘rough sleepers’, or people who actually sleep on the streets. Outside of that there are people who sleep on couches, move between relatives’ or friends’ houses, sleep in their cars or stay at shelters. These are the ‘hidden homeless’, the ones who aren’t easy to see and who are stuck in a cycle they can’t escape from.

That cycle is what Barry and Wesley Mission are hoping to break. These people who have fallen on rough times need help to get back on their feet, which is where Agents Help Homeless come in. With donations, both of money but also of services, items and practical help, a significant difference can be made in the lives of people who are struggling.

Barry says what really surprised him through his talks with Wesley Mission was how easily this could happen to someone. He says he heard many stories about families where the main breadwinner has fallen ill and had to take extended time off work, or even died, leaving the family with no other option than to leave their home.

“It can happen to anybody; nobody is safe from this. As a community, we can point the finger and blame someone else, say it’s someone else’s responsibility or the government’s responsibility, but I really believe this is a community issue and something that we as a community need to take responsibility for. Because it can happen to any one of us at any time.”

A meeting with Amy Brown, a Partner in the Infrastructure & Urban Renewals team at PwC, helped Barry understand how widespread the problem is. Amy is just one of the people tackling the issue; she’s the producer of the documentary Being Invisible, about youth homelessness.

Amy is a big supporter of affordable housing projects, something she says the government desperately needs to review. Barry says he’s begun meeting with developers and looking into where this can go over the next few years, but the issue still needs attention to get government backing.

Another area of the real estate industry where Barry thinks support could be provided is property management. While some property managers already go above and beyond for their tenants, Barry says it’s important PMs keep an open mind when dealing with the situations people face and the hard times they can fall on.

Property Savers, which Barry founded, is a resource which PMs can use if they have a tenant who is unable to pay rent and will be evicted. Once a tenant has been referred to Property Savers, they can then be put in contact with the correct support network and charities to stop the homelessness cycle before it begins. The company also connects property sellers to agents in their area, and is a partner with Wesley Mission in the Agents Help Homeless community project.

From here, Barry wants to make Agents Help Homeless bigger and bigger, but he needs support to do that. By partnering with Wesley Mission, and allowing them to take on the donations and handle the funding, Barry is able to focus on getting the word out there and see what more can be done by the industry to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads that they can call their own.

“There are around 500,000 transactions every year in Australia, and if we could get agents to commit to something, even as a group or a franchise, even if just 10 per cent of those agents gave a hundred, or two hundred dollars from each sale, it would make a huge difference.”

More than that, Barry hopes that if the industry sits up and takes notice, and money begins to come in, that will encourage change on a bigger scale and encourage attention from the people who can kickstart change.

“Once this sort of thing gets traction, the politicians will look at it and realise there’s a voting crowd in support, and there’s a big enough body of people who are donating and adding value. We’ll be able to show them that we’re already making a difference ourselves, as a community, and that’s going to get us to the point where we can create some leverage for the politicians and the government to make policy changes.”

For more information about how you can support, go to the Agents Help Homeless website.

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Hannah Blackiston

Hannah Blackiston was an in-house journalist with Elite Agent. She worked with the company from January 2018 to January 2019.