Five lessons Australia could learn from Wales on ending homelessness
7 August 2019 at 5:11 pm
Homelessness is on the rise in Australia, and advocates say attempts to reduce the rising numbers have been fruitless. But Wales is treating the issue a little differently, and it’s making a difference. So what could Australia learn from Wales? We found out.
Make it law
In 2015 Wales passed a homelessness prevention law, forcing local governments to increase their investment in supports that stopped homelessness from happening. This included providing support to prevent evictions, tenant and landlord mediation, rapid rehousing capacity, and family mediation support.
Welsh homelessness academic Dr Peter Mackie, who is speaking at an event on Thursday to mark Homelessness Week, told Pro Bono News that the law meant if you’re at risk of becoming homeless you can seek help from local authorities, and it’s the minimum help required to keep people housed.
“The local authorities are by law in Wales obliged to take steps to try and help you keep you in your home, and if you can’t keep that home, to find you an alternative,” Mackie said.
Change the culture
Mackie said because local authorities are now obliged to take steps to try and keep a person in their home, or find the person a new one, it has led to a culture change in how the issue is dealt with.
“We’re now successfully preventing homelessness in nearly 70 per cent of cases. The law has shifted everything earlier and we’re now less focused on crisis,” he said.
“We’ve also got staff now who are problem solvers, so it’s been a big success in that way.”
Enshrining the “duty to assist” into law also means there must be more social and affordable housing provided by government – something Australian homelessness advocates have been calling for for some time.
“It will drive the provision of more housing because government ultimately has a duty to provide it,” Mackie said.
Tackle the issue before the crisis point
In Australia, a lot of the federal homelessness funding is directed at services that only help people after they have lost their home, such as emergency shelters.
Mackie said that a shift of focus away from the “crisis” stage of homelessness would make a big difference.
“What Australia could do that Wales has done is put a real policy shift towards making universal access to support to help prevent homelessness and ultimately reduce the need for services later on in a crisis,” he said.
Give it an Australian spin
Australia implementing universal access to homelessness prevention support would require looking at the country’s government, legal and housing context and how it differed to the UK.
Mackie suggested starting small.
“Perhaps this will mean starting with Victoria and then moving elsewhere or even starting with a city and then moving elsewhere to really look at, and start talking through, how these principles might look like in the Aussie context,” Mackie said.
Rally the community sector
He said the role of the community sector in pushing this campaign forward was important.
“Getting government to enact a law takes a long time. In Wales we started working towards those universal principles before any law change actually occurred and they are doing the same now in Canada,” he said.
“It’s important to get homelessness services together to take a look at what work should be happening on the ground, where the service gaps are and look for funding to provide those services.”
What would be the impact?
If there were less people experiencing homelessness, Mackie said it would take the pressure off emergency services, healthcare services, and improve the quality of life for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
“There’s going to be financial savings because if you avoided someone having to face the trauma of homelessness, they are less likely to need health care services because homelessness causes poor health,” he said.
“But ultimately, the focus has to be on life. The number of people who face the trauma of homelessness is reduced and that’s the most important thing.”
Mackie will be speaking further on the topic at a free event at RMIT University on 8 August.