FAMILIES in the outer eastern suburbs are being forced to live in unsound and dangerous places while they wait years for public housing, a local welfare manager says.
Mark Dixon, general manager of homelessness services at UnitingCare Harrison, says the issue of public housing waiting lists is only intensifying.
"There are lots of families looking for public housing and some of them have been waiting for a substantial number of years," he said.
"In the waiting process a lot are being forced to live in unregistered and unsafe rooming houses. What we're concerned about is that many of these places house people exiting prison, mental institutes, et cetera, and people can leave them more damaged than when they entered."
The comments came as the state government revealed the eastern metropolitan region public housing waiting list had risen by 1.1 per cent (49 applicants) in the December quarter.
Public housing allows low income families to live in publicly funded housing where rent is usually a fixed part of your income.
Mr Dixon said the number of applicants at the Ringwood housing office — 2113 — was likely to be much higher in reality.
"While waiting for housing, many people turn to family members, cars, tents, just wherever they can. And they become transient.
"The problem is when they do this many don't tell the department their new address and thus can't be put on the waiting lists. So we suspect [the number] is bigger than the waiting lists indicate."
Mr Dixon said recent federal government cuts to single-parent allowances contributed to the overall struggle. "When income goes down and mean rental price goes up, people struggle.
"People are cutting back on food, clothing or entertainment just to get a head start."
He would not comment on Families Minister Jenny Macklin's comment earlier this year that she could live on $35 a day.
"All I'll say is that anyone on Newstart allowance has to be a fantastic financial administrator and has to manage their dollars day to day."
Mr Dixon said public housing was a "crucial issue" and one that UnitingCare, which helps those looking for affordable housing, would continue to lobby for.
Private rental in the eastern suburbs has risen by 94.3 per cent over the past 12 years. The number of affordable private rental houses has decreased by 67 per cent over the past five years.
There are now 37,130 families on public housing waiting lists in Victoria.