Older Women & Homelessness Forum

(12pm, Thursday 7 August 2014, Redfern Town Hall)

Thank you, Lara [Sabbadin, AHI]. Hello, everyone.

I'd also like to acknowledge all those people here who are working to end homelessness and the devastating effects it has on so many lives.

In particular, it can be a brutal experience for women, perhaps for older women most of all.

Everyone with first-hand experience in dealing with homelessness was alarmed last year when the Government announced its reforms to existing services which meant - as I said at the time - that almost $6 million could be stripped from existing services, including specialist, women's only services in inner Sydney.

That proposed cut came at a time when the number of rough sleepers recorded in our February street count had risen by an alarming 25 per cent on the same period last year.

We spoke with a range of specialist services in the inner city - in particular with women's services fearful they would close as a result of the cuts, and I wrote to the new Minister, Gabrielle Upton in May, asking for increased funding for the inner city.

There was also lobbying from the services, unions, community members, from our councillors and from Alex Greenwich as the Member for Sydney and in June, the Minister announced a new funding support package to complement Going Home Staying Home.

It included reinstatement of the $5.6 million the Government had intended to take out of the city, along with an additional $2 million a year over the next three years for specialist women's services.

This was a most welcome result - and one that's critical for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming so.

Importantly, it is also tacit recognition that any future plan to reduce funding to inner-city services must occur slowly and in full consultation with the sector. And obviously, it should occur only if there is sound evidence that the inner-city drift has slowed.

However, other concerns remain.

Eight services unsuccessful in the tender process - including Elsie Women's Refuge - will either have to close their doors for good, or else by subsumed by larger agencies. In Elsie's case, it is to be taken over by St Vincent de Paul, but it is unsure whether the existing and experienced staff will remain."

This will mean the loss of their expertise and deep experience in helping people with complex needs to get back on their feet and into a permanent home.

Small specialist services like HopeStreet, Elsie and The Fact Tree Youth Services work better for complex needs clients.

Elsie, as the first women's refuge in Australia, has had 40 years' accumulated knowledge of working with vulnerable women and their children.

We are contacting all seven of the unsuccessful agencies to see what practical assistance we can give them. The Minister's offer of further funding for up to 18 months gives the refuges no guarantees and that is not a workable solution for these important services.

In a Lord Mayor Minute I took to Council I noted that small, specialist services for women with complex needs and for survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence remain of critical importance.

I have also written to the Minister asking her to continue to work closely with defunded refuges to ensure they are not forced to vacate their premises during the transitional period.

I also asked that a funding arrangement be developed that would enable them to continue providing their vital services into the future.

I hope that this forum today will provide us with further ideas for supporting their services.