WE have a housing stalemate in Australia, which is the root cause of the increasing levels of homelessness across the Hunter and beyond.
The shortage of cheaper (more affordable) housing is where the problem is most acute but there is no political will to fix the problem, which has been growing steadily over the past two decades.
Everyone needs a home and, in Australia, we rely on the private sector to build sufficient housing for everyone.
According to federal Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews, new dwellings across Australia have averaged abound 150,000 a year since the mid-1980s and this is the anticipated number of new dwellings for 2013.
However, the population during this period has increased by about seven million and the number of new dwellings is clearly inadequate for the growth. Governments no longer favour public housing so there appears to be no solution.
Some people quietly, I believe, are quite happy with the status quo. Lack of housing availability is the main contributor to increasing house prices and some people (even governments) rejoice when house prices surge.
There is not much support either for increasing the supply of affordable housing. This needs to be built in the urban centres close to jobs, childcare, schools and services. However the people who already live in these urban centres don't want to share their space.
So we have a stalemate and government seems reluctant to show any leadership in this area. It is low-income renters and the homeless who suffer.
While homelessness can be a multifaceted problem, simply increasing the supply of affordable housing would bring down the numbers of homeless people dramatically. We all need a place we can call home.
One of the things I have learnt working in the welfare sector is just how similar we all are - we human beings. We can all be vulnerable to misfortune and suffering and we all have similar wants and needs.
The most common response I hear from disadvantaged people about what they want in life is that they would like what everyone else seems to have.
What we all need is opportunity. To love and be loved, to have meaningful work, a place to call home and the chance to do well.
Christmas should be a time when we feel this love and support and look forward to family celebrations, and for many of us it is.
Yet for others, Christmas time is just like their experience at any other point in the year - a time of isolation, poverty and worry.
At Samaritans, we are particularly concerned by the increasing number of families and young people who are homeless.
Of the homeless people in NSW: 34 per cent became so because of family breakdown, particularly following domestic violence; 23 per cent are staying temporarily at a friend's place, called couch surfing, so we don't even see or know about them; 17 per cent are under 12, and 25 per cent are between 12 and 24.
This last point is particularly confronting and disturbing as we know that the most common pathway into adult homelessness is to be homeless as a child or young person.
This situation must be addressed so Samaritans has increased its efforts to support these children and young people in our region through a range of early intervention and support services.
One of our new initiatives this year has been the opening of a block of 21 student accommodation units in Newcastle.
This is Samaritans Student Accommodation where young people who are homeless can live for a couple of years while they work towards a qualification at TAFE or university.
These young people have left school early, but it is hard to find work unless you have a qualification and without a job it is hard to find sustainable accommodation.
Young people who join us in this project must make a commitment to obtain a qualification or employment, and Samaritans makes a commitment to support them until they do.
This is our mutual obligation and we are most encouraged by the success young people are achieving.
Projects like these help to build community and most importantly, an inclusive community.
Our challenge to reduce homelessness in Australia is to ensure our country becomes a great place to live for everyone.
You can eliminate youth homelessness in our region and build an inclusive community by giving to Samaritans Christmas Appeal. Visit samaritans.org.au for more information.
Cec Shevels is chief executive of the Samaritans Foundation.