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Uniting to Make Homelessness a National Priority

15 June 2016 at 12:22 pm
Wendy Williams
Leaders of Australia’s largest homelessness service providers have united in a bid to make reducing homelessness a national priority in the federal election and they are taking their campaign directly to the politicians through a series of nationwide forums.

Wendy Williams | 15 June 2016 at 12:22 pm


Uniting to Make Homelessness a National Priority
15 June 2016 at 12:22 pm

Leaders of Australia’s largest homelessness service providers have united in a bid to make reducing homelessness a national priority in the federal election and they are taking their campaign directly to the politicians through a series of nationwide forums.

Homeless man in doorway

The charities, Anglicare Australia, Mission Australia, Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society, UnitingCare Australia and Wesley Mission, have written a joint letter to all party leaders urging a commitment to halve homelessness by 2025.

In a joint statement, the charities said: “On any given night over 100,000 Australians are homeless – including over 44,000 children or young people. And each year more than 200,000 people seek help from homelessness services.

“The numbers are growing and we need federal government leadership to reverse that trend.  We are urging each party to commit to a comprehensive national plan that provides more affordable and social housing, expands prevention and early intervention services, rapidly rehouses people who are homeless, and better supports those needing help to sustain housing.

“This should include strategies aimed at identifying risk factors and population groups including women and children escaping domestic and family abuse, Indigenous communities, young people leaving care, and older people in the private rental market.”

In the first of a number of forums across the country, the leaders addressed their concerns to Shadow Housing and Homelessness Minister, Senator Katy Gallagher in Sydney on Tuesday.

Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans told Pro Bono Australia News the first forum was well received.

“We were very encouraged at the reflections from the senator after the forum, based on what she had heard from particularly the people who had experienced homelessness, that there is an understanding that it is a multi-faceted issue, it is about having access to social and affordable housing, it is also about investment in the wrap around services and also it is about attracting investment in affordable housing generally,” Yeomans said.

“We were encouraged and we’re looking forward to hearing what other representatives from the political parties say as well. If we are hearing a consensus I guess we are going to get a lot of encouragement from that.

“…This shouldn’t be a party political issue it should be something where we get commitment from all of the major political parties and whoever forms government post 2 July, that they will take this, as a priority and that we get support both at the House of Representatives and the senate to commit to the funding and commit to supporting the initiative that will address this issue.”

The group also invited caseworkers and a number of people who have used their services to speak at the forum about their personal experiences of homelessness, to shine a light on the personal stories behind the statistics.

Yeomans said the stories “painted a picture about what can happen in people’s lives” to lead to an episode of homelessness.

“Certainly the feedback we heard from the senator was that she really appreciated hearing directly from people who had experienced homelessness and I think what it does, is it immediately puts a face to homelessness,” Yeomans said.

“It removes it from being some either academic or public policy issue or something that we can get around to in the next budget, and actually really brings it home that these are people and their lives are in upheaval, and it affects more a broad cross section of the community… It was really helpful just to see that it can affect anybody.

“We can paint those stories, because we know them as service providers at the front line, but hearing them directly from the people concerned is very powerful.”

Yeomans said there was a lot of awareness in the community, around how quickly things can spiral out of control but people still needed to understand homelessness is often about the hidden homeless.

“It is people searching for crisis accommodation, temporary accommodation, couchsurfing, living in the car, and the more we talk about this, the more that I hear people recognising in themselves, oh yeah actually there were a couple of months there, where I needed to go and stay with family or stay with some friends and actually it was pretty uncertain for me being unable to find accommodation… so people can empathise more. It can happen to anyone,” she said.

“Homeless isn’t a respecter of any particular person, status in life or from any particular community. It can happen if something goes wrong and we haven’t got those supports in place.”

The campaign is calling on the government to make a commitment and set targets.

“Funding is only provided for [homelessness services] in the last federal budget until June 2017. Now we know the current federal government will tell us that obviously they are working with states and territories to discuss housing and homelessness, where that fits and where funding should be allocated, but in the meantime homelessness providers are left without any certainty as to whether the programs will be able to run post June 2017,” Yeomans said.

“What we also know is this funding has only been renewed in cycles of 12 months and the last time it was just renewed for two years which a year ago sounded okay… but actually we’re one year into it and we still don’t have any certainty. So, what we say is if it gets renewed again and we say it needs to be renewed because homelessness is increasing not decreasing… let’s have some continuity in commitment and let’s actually target five year funding because a problem a long time in the making isn’t going to be solved very quickly…we are also calling on political parties to agree on a target of halving homelessness by 2025… let’s have some long term commitment to funding to make that happen.”

Yeomans said halving homelessness by 2025 was a “big stretching target”.

“We don’t shy away from that,” she said.

“Interestingly what we also know is that 40 per cent of the homeless population are under the age of 25, so what we would like to see is a milestone along the way to halving youth homelessness by 2020, because if we can do that then we’ll our journey towards halving homelessness by 2025 will be more achievable.

“Without a target all we’ll do is have some good will, some good intent. We don’t think it’s a case that people don’t actually want to address the issue of homelessness… but if we are really going to address it it needs to have some specific targets and specific initiatives for the longer term otherwise we’ll still be here in the next couple of years and we wont have moved on and potentially the risk is homelessness will continue to increase.”

The group is due to meet with Minister for Social Services Christian Porter and Senator Rachel Siewert, Greens spokesperson for community and disability services.

They have also launched a petition as part of the Vote Home campaign supported by the wider sector to generate public support for the campaign during the Federal Election.

Yeomans said she thinks the voters will make homelessness a priority in the election campaign.

“If it is really an issue in the community then I’m sure members in any of the political parties will respond to that, so we’re encouraging people to… sign up to the petition and also just raise this… with their local member or to be writing to the leaders of the political parties.

“I think what we’re sensing is that as there is broad community awareness, we have a housing affordability crisis, and again there is a lot of empathy in the community that if the average person with a stable job, stable income is finding it challenging in today’s housing market to access a home appropriate to their circumstances, how much worse must it be for someone who has fallen on hard times.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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