Homelessness - Verbal Question

(Parliament House)

Ms CLOVER MOORE: My question is directed to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Given that one-third of the city's homeless people live in parks and public spaces of Woolloomooloo, what action will the Minister take to provide permanent housing for this vulnerable group?

Ms PRU GOWARD: I thank the member for her question. Homelessness is of particular importance to the O'Farrell-Stoner Government. It is a critical issue of human dignity and, as the member would know, is extremely challenging. The 2006 census revealed that more than 27,000 people were homeless in New South Wales and, no doubt, that number has increased. Of course, that figure includes a range of people from children and families with small children to the elderly. Woolloomooloo attracts a significant number of rough sleepers for a range of reasons, of which the member also would be aware: proximity to support services, public amenities, including proximity to Central railway station, and a community support reputation that invites the homeless.

The Matthew Talbot Hostel expansion was approved at all government levels, which enabled the number of people in that space to expand. Since becoming Minister I have spent time with my housing staff to learn about the intricacies and challenges of addressing chronic homelessness. Recently I met with a number of service providers who support homeless people to see their work firsthand. Homeless people, particularly rough sleepers, have a range of complex needs; they are not homeless for one single reason. Shelter and meals provided by institutions such as the Matthew Talbot Hostel are crucial, but they are not enough. We need to work better with that hostel to ensure that homeless people have support and activities during the day to enable them to move on from homelessness.

I am aware of recent comments by the member for Sydney and have her letter to me about antisocial behaviour in Woolloomooloo: street drinking, public urination and defecation, offensive noise and arguments in the street throughout the night, especially around Tom Uren Square. I understand that homeless people have made the member aware of the difficulty of getting accommodation and support for their health and welfare needs. I thank the member for making these issues known to the House and to me as Minister.

Cleaning of Tom Uren Square is undertaken five times a week by Housing NSW contractors, in addition to disinfecting the square by the City of Sydney. I am pleased to inform the House that Housing NSW has also recently engaged a new contractor for the cleaning of common areas, streets and laneways owned by Housing NSW. While the department does not have a community development worker based in Woolloomooloo, it engages tenant and community opinion through meetings with the Woolloomooloo Neighbourhood Advisory Board every six weeks. The meetings are also attended by Housing NSW, the Police Force, four tenant representatives, the member for Sydney as the local member, Sydney city council and other service providers. I encourage the city council to ensure that services are provided commensurate with the hostel accommodation available.

To address any antisocial behaviour in Woolloomooloo, Housing NSW and the Kings Cross Local Area Command have devised strategies to work collaboratively and proactively. This includes weekly meetings and providing the police with access to common areas and properties for surveillance activities. We are also investigating the potential for laneway closures around Tom Uren Square and the development of a proposal for the City of Sydney to classify Tom Uren Square as an alcohol-prohibited zone. These issues cannot be resolved by any one level of government, one department, one scheme or one service provider. I look forward to working with the member and the City of Sydney council in addressing issues such as those in Woolloomooloo.