Inner-City Homelessness - Private Members Statement

(5.19pm 24 May 2012, Parliament House Sydney)

Good progress is being made in tackling inner-city homelessness as a result of cooperation between all levels of government and non-government organisations. The City of Sydney Street Count in February found a drop in homelessness in the inner city from 418 in February 2010 to 310 in February this year. Numbers in Woolloomooloo dropped from 95 in winter 2010 to 45 in February this year. But we still have a homelessness problem, particularly in Woolloomooloo where nearly one-third of the city's homeless people were counted. This drop in numbers on the street is the result of active programs that have changed how we respond to homelessness.

The "housing first" approach offers permanent housing to homeless people with the support they need to get back on their feet. Mission Australia's Michael Project showed that it costs us more to leave someone homeless than it does to provide them with a home and wraparound support such as health and hygiene, cleaning, shopping and cooking skills. New funds have allowed additional homes and better services. I commend the Commonwealth Government for putting new money into social housing and affordable housing.

Way2Home, an outreach program funded by the city and the New South Wales Government, helps homeless people in the street to get into housing and receive ongoing support. A homeless health team from St Vincent's Hospital provides much-needed health services direct to rough sleepers. Way2Home has placed 151 people in permanent housing since it began in April 2010, including 38 rough sleepers from Woolloomooloo who now have long-term supported housing. Platform 70, funded jointly by Federal and New South Wales governments through Bridge Housing Limited, will accommodate 70 rough sleepers from Woolloomooloo in a home of their own. A total of 24 Way2Home clients have been housed there. The wonderful Camperdown Project facility is housing 60 rough sleepers and 60 low-income people, with 25 Way2Home clients there already.

The City of Sydney runs a dedicated homelessness unit, the statewide Homeless Persons Information Service, and provides brokerage for emergency accommodation and transport home. We have public space liaison officers to manage the impacts on city parks and streets and coordinate the Woolloomooloo integrated service hub, which brings medical, legal and employment services to one location at one time to help rough sleepers out of homelessness. The City of Sydney was commended in this year's homelessness achievement awards and I am proud of the work we do. I congratulate all those who work so hard to better respond to homelessness and help vulnerable people get a home of their own. This is particularly relevant at the moment while we are experiencing cold and wet weather.

I am pleased that the NSW Police Force is undertaking a statewide training program for all officers to accompany the revised homelessness protocol. Police deal with complex situations and inner-city police commanders ask officers to focus on resolving conflict and addressing problematic behaviour rather than criminalising homelessness. Service providers are now focussing on pathways out of homelessness. We are encouraging charities that provide food to link up with service providers and venues where people can get help with their problems and are supported to get off the street. These charities are also looking at providing meals in areas where homeless people live but no services are available.

We also want to break the cycle of people dropping food, furniture and clothes in the street in Woolloomooloo. This food is not safe to eat and attracts rats and ibis. Local residents and social housing tenants continue to complain about the dumping, which does not help homeless people or residents. Improved and expanded activity programs have helped rough sleepers take their vital first steps. These programs include the impressive facilities at Ozanam House in Woolloomooloo and the upgraded Wayside Chapel, along with Milk Crate Theatre and homeless football. Initiatives like The Big Issue, the magazine sold by homeless people who want to change their lives, give people a chance to re-engage and sort out their lives.

Sydney has the most expensive housing market in Australia, and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling has now classified Sydney as "severely unaffordable". The National Housing Supply Council says that Australia has a shortage of about 215,000 dwellings and predicts it will keep rising. Australians for Affordable Housing has reported that housing stress now affects more than one in 10 households, who pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. The latest Anglicare rental affordability snapshot identified that only 0.6 per cent of private rentals in Sydney were affordable for people on lower incomes, thereby locking out people on minimum wages, single incomes and Centrelink benefits. All levels of government must address the important issue of homelessness. It is terrific to see that there has been progress in addressing homelessness, but the efforts must not stop. I call on the New South Wales Government to continue investing in positive homelessness programs and to put funds into low-cost and social housing that will help prevent homelessness.