Landmark Victorian Inquiry into Homelessness report: What’s in it for young people?
5 March 2021 at 4:53 pm
The Victorian Inquiry into Homelessness report was submitted to Parliament with over 50 recommendations. Associate Professor David Mackenzie and Dr Tammy Hand, who head up the Upstream Project and are co-creators of the COSS model, highlight their key takeaways.
The long-awaited Victorian Parliament Legal and Social Issues Committee report, Inquiry into Homelessness, was tabled on Thursday. Committee chair, independent MP Fiona Patten, rose to speak to the report, declaring that “this is a report that this Parliament will be proud of”. She said the inquiry epitomised “the good work that this Parliament strives to do”. Other members of the committee, Wendy Lovell (Lib), a former minister of housing, Rod Barton (Independent), Dr Samantha Ratnam (Greens) and Shane Lean (Lab) all spoke in multi-partisan support of their joint effort.
The committee, which undertook its work under the difficult circumstances wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, received more than 450 formal submissions and held 18 hearings in Melbourne and across regional Victoria.
The committee paid particular attention to the lived experience of homeless Victorians. A key message from the committee’s report is that “homelessness is one of the most complex and distressing expressions of disadvantage and social exclusion in our society and requires immediate attention by government”, with the resolve that “Victoria can solve homelessness”.
In the face of the demand for assistance due to homelessness, the committee noted that: “Victoria’s homelessness system is overwhelmed with those in need, making it increasingly difficult for service providers to adequately respond to the complex and varying problems a person faces. There is significant risk in treating immediate problems in isolation”.
Furthermore, the committee boldly argued that the current approach to homelessness in Victoria needs to be reoriented. It said the lack of long-term accommodation and early intervention programs in Victoria has led to an increasingly crisis-oriented sector: “Due to demand exceeding the services available, particularly for accommodation, the sector is forced to focus more on the short-term and immediate needs of people who are homeless.”
Refreshingly, the committee argued that early intervention is crucial to ending homelessness”
“Early intervention involves the homelessness sector and other related sectors intervening as early as possible to prevent people becoming homeless. This is achieved through addressing risk factors which may cause a person to become homeless and to give a person the opportunity to build personal, social and economic resilience.
“Early intervention is particularly critical for those who first experienced homelessness at a young age. Prevention of homelessness amongst young people or intervening early is important to ensure that experiences of homelessness and disadvantage at a young age do not affect the life chances of an individual and increase the likelihood of ongoing homelessness into adulthood.”
Under early intervention the report conditionally recommended increased funding for Education First Youth Foyers in metropolitan and regional areas; the Kids Under Cover model of innovative home-based unit accommodation; and that the Victorian government provide funding and support for the expansion of initiatives linked to the Community of Schools and Services model “with a minimum expansion to seven pilot sites that will include four metropolitan sites and three regional sites”.
The other key policy proposition was about the provision of more long-term housing:
“The provision of affordable, stable, long-term housing is key to reducing the number of people at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness in Victoria. The delivery of additional social housing is key to addressing homelessness by ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing across the state. This includes measures in the private rental market, inclusionary zoning and government financing initiatives.”
The recent announcement by the Victorian government of $5.1 billion for social housing over four years is a significant investment for a state with the lowest stock of social housing compared to the national average. However, whether young Victorians gain access to social housing proportionate to their need as a homelessness cohort depends on reform of the current models supporting mainstream social housing.
Patten concluded with the optimist refrain: “We need to be smarter about where we direct our efforts. The two best things we can do are strengthen early intervention services and provide more secure, long-term housing for the homeless”.
Overall, this report poses a reform agenda for Victoria to more effectively address homelessness which is the “deepest expression of social exclusion in our society, a growing and seemingly intractable problem”. However, child/youth homelessness is not only a Victorian problem; it is a national problem.
There is a consensus amongst stakeholders that what is needed is a national strategy to end child/youth homelessness with governments and the NGO sector working together on how to end homelessness. But how?
An important initiative focused on this very issue is the forthcoming National Youth Homelessness Conference in June 2021 which is being set up as the inaugural gathering of all who seek to contribute to a national effort to end child/youth homelessness in the foreseeable future. The Victorian Inquiry into Homelessness has made a significant contribution to this project.