Exodus Foundation 25th Anniversary Dinner

(8pm, Saturday 18 October 2014, Sofitel Wentworth Hotel)

Thank you, Jessica, [Rowe, MC]. Good evening, everyone.

I would also like to acknowledge the Hon Mike Baird, Premier of NSW, and of course the Rev Bill Crews, CEO and founder of this wonderful organisation.

Homelessness is a blight on any city. Worse, it is a blight on the lives of people - often our most vulnerable.

It diminishes their choices, impairs their health, and deprives them of opportunities the rest of us can take for granted. Homelessness diminishes us all as a society.

A thriving and humane city must be inclusive. When we talk of "our community" it has to mean all of us, including the homeless and the disadvantaged.

Homelessness demands a multi-faceted approach involving a whole range of government and non-government agencies and programs.

The Exodus Foundation knows that, and its services range from the Night City Van at Woolloomooloo to the Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant to its excellent Literacy Centres based in Redfern and Ashfield, among other initiatives.

We also operate on a number of fronts of the city, and we rely strongly on partnerships to meet the complex, often shifting range of needs.

We have the only dedicated Homelessness Unit in NSW, working with all stakeholders to reduce homelessness and its impact in the City. Our Public Space Liaison Officers traverse the city seven days a week, getting to know rough sleepers and helping them get access to services.

With the support of over 140 wonderful volunteers, we run a summer and winter street count each year so we can measure the effectiveness of our homelessness programs, and to track trends in numbers.

This winter's count found 296 people sleeping rough. Happily this was lower than during our February count, but unfortunately an increase on the numbers recorded last winter.

Way2Home is an outreach program aimed at helping rough sleepers off the street and into long-term housing. Obviously, especially in the early stages of independent living, support is needed - and it's given at every step.

This group works closely with St Vincent's Hospital health outreach team for the homeless, with its mental health, drug and alcohol specialists and their links to a range of allied health services.

Since the program began in April 2010, over 224 people have made the move into housing. That's at least one person a week who now has been supported into a long-term home.

We also run the Woolloomoolo Integrated Services Hub, or WISH, a one-stop shop providing direct services to people who are homeless. WISH brings about 20 services together each month to deliver in a co-ordinated way all the services needed to smooth people's pathway out of homelessness. These can take the form of direct support, such as lodging a housing application form.

And we co-ordinate quarterly meetings for service providers and volunteers to hear from speakers and to network and share information.

As well we fund a number of community-based initiatives for the homeless through our grants program.

The NSW Government is finalising new plans for inner-city services for the homeless.

The City will then ensure our funding complements the government plans.

What we do know is that we need more affordable and social housing.

For people to move out of homelessness - a ready supply of affordable housing, and adequate support services, are essential and we need government policies committed to achieving this.

And tonight we honour and celebrate 25 years of the Exodus Foundation and salute you for the work that you do for the most vulnerable in the community.

Thank you.