NFPs Warn Moving On the Homeless Does Not Make Them Disappear
18 January 2017 at 3:25 pm
The CEOs of 36 Victorian homelessness, housing and social services organisations have released an open letter appealing for a shift in the conversation away from vilifying rough sleepers to a focus on the lack of affordable housing that underpins the crisis.
The letter comes after stark newspaper images showed growing numbers setting up homeless camps around Melbourne’s CBD during the Australian Tennis Open.
The letter said: “Until we join the dots between housing and homelessness, we will never solve the crisis.”
Policy manager of Council for Homeless Persons Kate Colvin told Pro Bono News: “Recent coverage of the ‘shame’ of Melbourne’s homelessness focuses attention on the wrong end of the problem.
“Vilifying people sleeping rough does not help them, splashing the faces of people in crisis in the paper only further stigmatises and isolates them, and fuels public fear and resentment.
“Last year there was a series of stories about aggressive beggars and in the immediate aftermath people who were visibly homeless on the street reported an increased number of nasty comments and verbal abuse from passers-by. I think it gives permission to people to direct their anger at others when what we are seeing is a symptom of a failure of government policy.
“These are the people already suffering from the failure of government and to add to that already difficult situation this is only adding to their shame. It’s appalling.”
The open letter said: “The real shame was that this crisis has been with us for some time, and it is only now that it has become visible in our streets that there is outrage and reaction.
“The City of Melbourne is struggling valiantly to balance a humanitarian response with public health and safety, and homelessness services are working hard to engage with chronically disadvantaged people, some of whom have complex needs.
“But until something is done about the national housing crisis that underpins this problem, we are simply bailing water on a sinking boat. The irony of reading news coverage of property investor borrowing skyrocketing alongside coverage of the homelessness crisis is not lost on us.
These two issues are intrinsically linked, and until we join the dots, we’ll never solve the crisis.”
Colvin said reports of people on the streets declining offers of accommodation ignore the fact that the housing offered is usually a few nights in a rooming house, or a refuge.
“Like you and me, what people who are homeless want is a safe, affordable and, most importantly, permanent place to call home,” she said.
“To provide this we urgently need more public and community housing. The poor have been squeezed out of the private rental market, and there are tens of thousands of people waiting for public housing.”
The Victorian government has committed more than $600 million to social housing and homelessness support largely in response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
“However, we are still awaiting the Victorian affordable housing strategy,” Colvin said.
“Our federal government is a long way from having a plan to tackle this problem. Meanwhile, those on lowest incomes are being pursued by automated Centrelink debt notices, reducing their already meagre incomes. This will inevitably increase homelessness.
“We are already hearing from agencies where a number of people have mentioned they have received debt letters. We are waiting to see the fallout from this in the next few months as more people struggle to hang on to their homes.”
The CEOs of Victoria’s leading homelessness, housing and social service organisations said they have been raising this problem for a long time, and it wasn’t going to go away overnight.
“The way to solve rough sleeping, and other forms of homelessness is by providing enough safe, permanent, affordable housing, and, when needed, the intensive supports to go with it,” they said.
“We’re calling on the media and policy makers to maintain their focus on the real shame of the lack of action on housing affordability.
“We need to get on with making the hard decisions that will solve our community’s housing problem. So many people have more than one house and so many more have no home at all.”
Signatories to the letter are:
- Anglicare Victoria CEO Paul McDonald
- Australian Community Support Organisation CEO Karenza Louis-Smith
- Berry Street CEO Sandie de Wolf AM
- Child and Family Services Ballarat CEO Allan Joy
- cohealth chief executive Lyn Morgain
- Community Housing Federation of Victoria, executive officer Lesley Dredge
- Concern Australia CEO Michelle Crawford
- Council to Homeless Persons CEO Jenny Smith
- Domestic Violence Victoria CEO Fiona McCormack
- Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand CEO Dimity Fifer
- Jan Armstrong from Hume Regional Homelessness Network
- Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards
- Justice Connect Homeless Law manager and principal lawyer Lucy Adams
- Ladder CEO Elisabeth Tuckey
- Latitude: Directions for Young People manager Rhonda Collins
- Launch Housing acting CEO Richie Goonan
- McCauley Women’s Services CEO Jocelyn Bignold
- Melbourne City Mission CEO Vicki Sutton, CEO
- Merri Outreach Support Service CEO Robert Sago
- Reclink Australia CEO John Ballis
- Sacred Heart Mission CEO Cathy Humphrey
- Safe Futures CEO Janine Mahoney,
- SalvoConnect, The Salvation Army network director Janet White
- South Port Community Housing CEO Janet Goodwin
- Tenants Union of Victoria CEO Mark O’Brien
- The Salvation Army Victoria state social commander Major Michael Coleman
- The Salvation Army general manager adult services Jane Barnes
- Victorian Council of Social Services CEO Emma King
- VincentCare CEO John Blewonski
- Wesley Mission Victoria chief operating officer Raelene Thompson
- Whitelion CEO Mark Watt
- Wintringham Housing general manager Helen Small
- Wombat Housing and Support Services Inc executive officer Steve Maher
- Women’s Health West CEO Dr Robyn Gregory
- Women’s Housing Limited CEO Judy Line
- Youth Projects chair Melanie Raymond.