Woolloomooloo Homelessness

(1.50pm 9 May 2011, Parliament House)

Today I call for urgent action to address the continuing antisocial behaviour linked with large numbers of homeless people sleeping rough in the local streets and parks of Woolloomooloo. In March I attended a community meeting with 70 residents and homeless people, all of whom are fed up with the conflict between different parts of the community and demanding action on homelessness. The City of Sydney's February street count identified 418 people sleeping rough in the local government area, 90 of whom are living on the streets and in the parks of Woolloomooloo. Nowhere else in Sydney has this same concentration of people living on the street, and the community is angry that it continues in this affluent country.

Residents report street drinking, public urination and defecation, and offensive noise and arguments in the street throughout the night, especially around Tom Uren Square. Homeless people tell me of the difficulty getting into accommodation, and support for health and welfare needs. I have worked hard over many years to get needed support services for public tenants, to provide homes for homeless people, and an ongoing street police presence to address drug-related crime, youth crime and antisocial behaviour. The City of Sydney does more than any other local authority to address homelessness and has been filling the gaps left by the State Government. The Council runs the Homeless Persons Information Centre, funds an outreach worker who works with rough sleepers, organises biannual homeless street counts, and funds referral and support services.

Kings Cross police are overwhelmed with increasing alcohol-related violence, but the former Government did not respond to my calls for extra police to cover entertainment area problems, so antisocial behaviour such as street drinking, public urination and noise complaints were given lower priority in the Woolloomooloo area. While council and police can help, they do not have primary responsibility for solving homelessness. Housing NSW is responsible for housing and homelessness, and is a major landlord and property owner in Woolloomooloo. I believe it has failed this community. Housing NSW officers have not attended recent community meetings, leaving residents frustrated and angry. I call on the new Government to take responsibility. I have proposed that a community development worker for the area would be able to hear concerns and coordinate immediate action. Dedicated place management helped sort out different but significant problems for Surry Hills public housing tenants where the community development worker now fixes local problems quickly and gets all agencies to coordinate services and action.

The Housing NSW office in Woolloomooloo is open only a few hours a week and could house a full-time community development worker. Housing NSW owns commercial properties, social housing and land in Woolloomooloo that have been left vacant and wasted for years. Housing NSW should immediately lease vacant Cathedral Street commercial properties, fill other vacancies quickly, repair damaged homes promptly so they can be leased and build new homes at long-vacant 174 Dowling Street. I call on the Government to give priority to housing Woolloomooloo rough sleepers in the Camperdown project, which will provide units for homeless people with the rap-around support they need to get back on their feet. It is not good enough to leave people, who often are quite seriously mentally ill, sleeping rough in Woolloomooloo streets and parks.

I call on Housing NSW also to keep its property at Tom Uren Square safe and clean, and urgently apply for alcohol-prohibited status to help police prevent alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour in the square. Residents tell me that cleaning contractors at Housing NSW were sacked for 11 weeks before the agency sorted out what was happening, and I have asked for better accountability to ensure proper cleaning. I request also that Housing NSW set up quick removal of graffiti on Housing NSW property to improve amenity and to show that it cares for these important assets. The groundbreaking 1974 Woolloomooloo Tripartite Agreement involved all levels of government working together on significant city-based projects, and set up new public housing.

I call on the New South Wales Government to sign up to a new tripartite agreement for Woolloomooloo—for national, State and local governments to work together for the area to reduce homelessness. Despite my years of pressure for action on homelessness, the previous Government and successive Ministers for Housing failed to support Woolloomooloo tenants and rough sleepers. I call on the new Government to give high priority to solving these serious concerns.