‘I want to put a positive spin on it’: Homelessness minister’s comments cause outrage
10 July 2019 at 4:16 pm
A federal minister’s call to put a “positive spin” on homelessness has been slammed by community groups, who warn this is a backwards approach to tackling the crisis.
The new minister for homelessness and community housing, Luke Howarth, told ABC Radio National on Tuesday that “parts of homelessness” in Australia had reduced over the past 15 years.
Howarth said it was important to look positively at homelessness figures given 99.5 per cent of Australians were homed and living safely.
“There’s half a per cent of the population that isn’t [homeless]. We want to make sure that that 0.5 per cent are in homes as quickly as possible and we’re doing what we can to go out there and talk to people in the sector and find out how we do it,” Howarth said.
“I want to put a positive spin on it as well and not just say Australia’s in a housing crisis when it affects a very, very small percentage of the population.”
How is this positive spin? There is nothing positive about experiencing or being at risk of homelessness. The positive thing Luke Howarth can do is invest more in social housing and youth crisis accommodation to #endhomelessness #auspol https://t.co/RvPI7dEHf1
— Melbourne City Mission (MCM) (@MelbCityMission) July 9, 2019
Despite a 14 per cent increase in homelessness between the 2011 and 2016 censuses, Howarth said the increase was “not ahead of population growth” – even though the population grew only 8.8 per cent over this period.
His comments caused a stir on social media, with #positivehomelessness and #positivespin trending on Twitter yesterday.
— 💧🌏 Denise Shrivell (@deniseshrivell) July 9, 2019
Community groups were also dismayed by Howarth’s comments.
National Shelter executive officer Adrian Pisarski told Pro Bono News there was no positive spin for those experiencing homelessness.
“We were inundated yesterday with messages expressing outrage at the minister’s remarks,” Pisarski said.
“I understand he was trying to say that by and large Australians are well housed, but that doesn’t mean you can put a positive spin on homelessness.”
Housing in Australia is broken and there’s no way to put a ‘positive spin’ on it. Anglicare Australia’s research shows affordability has been plummeting for the last decade. That’s why more people are homeless than ever before #positivehomelessness
— Anglicare Australia (@anglicare_aust) July 9, 2019
Homelessness groups have long called on the federal government to provide more social and affordable housing to combat a shortfall of almost half a million properties.
But Howarth argued community housing and homelessness were “separate issues”, and said his priority as minister was providing more emergency accommodation, because Australians did not like the sight of homeless people on the street.
“There are a number of areas and I’ll be focusing on all of them, but I think people on the street is important because that’s what Australians see if they’re in a capital city,” he said.
“They can see people on the street, they want something done about that.”
Pisarski was not impressed with these comments, suggesting they displayed the signs of someone who has “only skim read” his ministerial briefs.
“He needs to dig a lot deeper into the housing and homelessness data to properly understand the magnitude of the problem that we face. And it’s clear from his comments that he hasn’t done that yet,” he said.
Pisarski said while there was a need for additional emergency accommodation, there wouldn’t be such a crisis if there was adequate social and affordable housing.
He added that Howarth’s comments looked at housing as a welfare issue which was a backwards step.
“We’ve been trying to create the shift from housing as a welfare issue to housing as an economic and infrastructure issue… and these comments take us backwards rather than forwards,” he said.
“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has called for ideas to stimulate the economy and we think the best idea is spending on social housing.
Good news everyone – sure, you might be homeless, but you have a piece of street you can lay down on. Let’s try and keep it positive. #positivehomelessness
— Amy Remeikis (@AmyRemeikis) July 9, 2019
“Social housing would boost the building industry, create jobs, and provide the secure and affordable housing we need for the many people who require it.”
Anglicare Australia acting executive director Roland Manderson also criticised Howarth’s comments and called for further investment in affordable and social housing.
“People on the lowest incomes are being squeezed out of the rental market. That’s why it’s urgent that we invest in social housing. This would be the most powerful first step to tackling homelessness,” Manderson said.
“Our social housing shortfall is massive. We need 300,000 new social properties across Australia. There is no way to put a positive spin on that gap.”
Howarth has been in meetings this week with the lord mayors of the nation’s capital cities, who have urged the minister to create a national housing and homelessness strategy.