NSW Announces 'Once in a Decade' Opportunity to Tackle Homelessness
13 September 2016 at 11:14 am
The New South Wales Government is calling on everyone with an interest in preventing homelessness to have their say in a new blueprint outlining the state’s strategy over the next decade.
In its new discussion paper, Foundations for Change – Homelessness in NSW, the state government will explore how the private and community sectors can collaborate to ensure fewer people experience homelessness.
Minister for Family and Community Services and Social Housing Brad Hazzard also said the blueprint would look at ways to tackle the underlying causes of homelessness that put people at risk.
“Homelessness isn’t just the men you see sleeping rough,” Hazzard said.
“It’s women and children sleeping in their cars. It’s young people having to beg a couch from friends and never knowing where they will be the next night.
“Common sense says if we intervene earlier we can prevent people from falling into this crisis.
“We want the best ideas from the community to help us get a strategy that makes a serious difference to vulnerable people who would otherwise have asphalt and not a mattress to lay their head.”
The announcement comes after an open letter to Premier Mike Baird, from planning experts, housing and homeless peaks and property sector representatives, called on the government to act on housing affordability.
They said the state needs to create 100,000 new affordable homes in 10 years to tackle homelessness and the housing problem.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which runs the Homeless Persons Legal Service, welcomed the announcement and said it was a “once in a decade opportunity” to tackle homelessness.
Senior policy officer for Homelessness and Human Rights at PIAC Louis Schetzer told Pro Bono Australia News Sydney’s homelessness problem was reaching crisis point.
“What we’ve seen over the last three or four years is a rapid increase, particularly in primary homelessness in Sydney,” Schetzer said.
“The figures are quite dramatic as borne out by the street counts that are undertaken by the City of Sydney and the City of Parramatta where we’ve seen massive increases in rough sleeping over the last three years.
“Now obviously that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues of homelessness and it’s impact in New South Wales. But it’s an indication that there is a chronic need that needs to be addressed now.
“This [discussion paper] is an opportunity, and we think a very unique opportunity to have a whole of government response to what is a developing crisis within this state.”
PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor also said the current levels of homelessness were “unacceptable”.
“According to the City of Sydney’s StreetCount, the number of people sleeping rough has increased by 12 per cent since this time last year, and 55 per cent since August 2013,” Hunyor said.
“For homelessness to be going up in Sydney in 2016 is simply unacceptable.
“We need decisive action to address housing affordability and provide more crisis
accommodation, or homelessness will continue to rise.”
Schetzer said PIAC, which also provides advice to government on homelessness and housing via consumer advisory committee, StreetCare, would include the voices of homeless people in its submission.
“We’ll be playing an active role in getting the voices and opinions of consumers – people who have a lived experience of homelessness and are still homeless – in contributing to this review, this consultation,” he said.
“We believe it’s fundamentally important that their views are heard and considered in the process. Homeless people are often the most important stakeholders in terms of working out the appropriate responses to dealing with homelessness.
“I think one thing that is coming clear from the views that we’ve heard from consumers is that the government needs to commit itself to some very real, measureable targets in terms of reducing homelessness in New South Wales.
“There’s an important process in terms of committing to cross-government responses and identifying where government systems are falling down… but ultimately they need to be subjected to a clear measure and target of reducing homelessness by a specific amount over the next five years.”
Schetzer said a reasonable target would be to ensure one homeless person a week receives stable, safe accommodation.
“There needs to be a net movement of reduction of one person per week in terms of the numbers of homelessness, and… over time we can look at addressing this more.
“We will see that over time, within two or three years, the problem of homelessness will have been massively reduced by just committing to that very simple target of ensuring one person per week finds accommodation.”
According to the government, there are around 58,000 people in the state who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Schetzer said the organisation was hopeful that the discussion paper signalled a change in the government’s response to homelessness.
“Certainly the views that we’ve had from people who experience homelessness is that they’ve seen many initiatives come and go with very little change in net result. And in fact over the last few years a massive increase in homelessness in Sydney,” he said.
“We’re hopeful this strategy will lead to something real, some real initiatives, and also addressing the problem areas across government where people are placed at risk of homelessness.
“But really we also need to be looking at situations of housing affordability in Sydney that puts such a massive demand on public housing and social housing in Sydney and New South Wales, and that that has an enormous contributing effect to the levels of homelessness we’re seeing.”
Consultation will take place across NSW throughout September and October 2016.