Guanghui (Tony) Huang fled China in December 2014 for a better life in Australia. Months later he found himself completely isolated and living in a tiny room in an over-crowded share home. He was in poor health, with limited finances, no job, and no support.

‘I was down and even thought I was lessened and forsaken,’ recalls Tony, who suffers from depression.

Then Tony met case manager Amy Yuen from for-purpose organisation VMCH, and his life turned around.

This week, 16—22 October, is Anti-Poverty Week, aimed at increasing society’s understanding of poverty and encouraging people to take collective action to end it.

Amy supports 66 seniors who are on a low income and are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, through the Assistance with Care and Housing (ACH) program. Thirty per cent of her clients are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, a group already at higher risk of housing distress.

Housing for the Aged Action Group (HAAG) reports that many older migrants, particularly those from China and India, come to Australia later in life and haven’t been able to buy a house, or have come to live with family and, if it hasn’t worked out, have nowhere to go.

According to the 2021 census, 15 per cent of the homeless population are migrants (arrived in the last five years). That’s more than three times the proportion of new migrants in the general population. Language barriers and a lack of knowledge and understanding around Australian systems and services are among the obstacles.

All these factors rang true for Tony, who also struggles with poor eyesight, rheumatoid arthritis and anemia.

‘I tried my hardest to find a job here in Melbourne. I am well educated, but no employer would hire me because they thought I was too old, and I did not hold a diploma or skills certificate accredited in Australia,’ Tony explains.

His greatest worry was accommodation, and he was forced to choose between paying for better quality rentals and his medication. He chose the latter, and so his only option was a small, windowless room inside private rental accommodation shared with several families. With restricted access to the kitchen and bathroom, he took a bath once a month and cooked meals in his rice cooker in his room.
‘I often woke up during the night because of the cold. I felt stifled in scorching hot weather in summer.’

VMCH Case Manager Amy Yuen and client Tony
VMCH case manager Amy Yuen with client Tony Huang in his new home. Photo supplied by VMCH.

Thankfully, Amy helped Tony apply for public housing, and in June, he moved into a comfortable home in Box Hill, complete with newly donated furniture from Eastern Emergency Relief Network.

He says living in the new house gives him hope for the future. ‘Now I can cook what I really like, read in the house and take a bath every day. Hopefully, after living in the new environment, my health will gradually improve and I will be able to do something good for society, in return for the benefits I have received from the government and for the help from VMCH.’

Amy says helping people like Tony to find suitable housing and support (she’s also linked him with medical and age-related care) is a huge collaborative effort, and she works closely with government agencies, councils, health services and other non-profits, including the Migrant Information Centre.

Personally, Amy finds achieving positive outcomes for her clients rewarding but says more needs to be done across the board to help older migrants settle into their new country.

‘We need more community education for health-care professionals, housing and migrant support services on the vulnerability of new migrants who are socially isolated and need to access the public housing system or affordable housing. The government also needs to have close supervision of the owners of rooming houses to ensure they provide sufficient support for new migrants to meet their basic needs.’

Do you need support from the ACH program? Call VMCH on 1300 698 624.