Recommended Resources – The Stringer – Independent News, Investigative Journalism

200 homeless programs face shutdown – 1 in 200 Australians are homeless

March 12th, 2013


Nearly 200 homelessness programs throughout Australia are at risk of being closed by the middle of the year if Federal and State funding is not renewed. It is allegedly tough financial times for Governments and difficult to balance budgets but it is even harder for those who are homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

The winding down of the programs means more people will join the more than 100,000 Australians who are homeless, and more of these people will have even less contact with agencies that could have assisted at times. Homelessness Australia reports that each day 1 out of every 200 Australians is homeless, without safe, secure or affordable housing. According to Homelessness Australia last year 220,000 Australians received support from specialist homelessness services – this equates to 1 in every 100 Australians. They report that 1 in every 38 Australian children aged 0 to 4 years spent time in a homelessness service over the course of 2009/10.

1 in 4 people who experience homelessness on any given night are under the age of 18.

Every day, more than half the people who request immediate accommodation from homelessness services are turned away, reports Homelessness Australia. 2 in every 3 children who need support are also turned away, as are almost 80 percent of families.

200 homelessness projects right throughout Australia are in jeopardy. Their funding ends in June and if the funding arrangements are not renewed then the programs will be terminated.

The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness funds 180 housing projects but Federal Minister for Homelessness, Mark Butler has not committed to any extension of funding.

The Agreement depends on Federal and State funding and it may be that if the States aren’t able to fund their share of the Agreement then the Federals won’t either. It makes no sense.

Negotiations are underway now between State jurisdictions and the Federal Government on the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and continuation of the programs hinge on the deal struck.

In the meantime non-government organisations working with the homeless are reporting increased numbers through their doors and the fact that they have to turn many away.

The Salvation Army’s Perceptions of Poverty reported that two million Australians, nearly1 in 10, live in poverty. They argue that poverty should be Governments’number one priority. At least 80,000 people needed help from the Salvos for the first time during 2011.

The report’s author, Wilma Gallet said many factors and stressors contribute to poverty – housing affordability, family breakdown, disability and discrimination.

”Apart from the very obvious poverty experienced by Indigenous Australians, poverty has remained largely hidden.”

The Salvation Army has said to the Federal Government that it should develop a national child poverty strategy given that 2 percent of children are affected by poverty.

In last year’s annual survey by the Salvation Army it was found that life was becoming harsher for the poor. Thousands of Australians are going without meals as they battle to pay household bills. The survey painted a bleak picture of deprivation among the nation’s poor in a country otherwise one of the world’s richest. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDEP) Human Development Index Australia ranks 2nd, just behind Norway, out of 187 countries for social wealth, public health, and even ‘happiness.’ Australia is the world’s 13th most powerful economy.

The survey found more than a third of those interviewed could not afford heating and tragically nearly 10 per cent had resorted to gambling. The Salvation Army interviewed 1,700 affected persons throughout the nation.

55 per cent reported that they were worse off financially than the preceding year.

“Despite Australia’s strong economic and employment climate, a large number of people in our communities continue to experience multiple indicators of deprivation,” the survey concluded.

Nearly 60 per cent said they could not afford out-of-school leisure or hobby activities for their children and 36 percent could not afford to pay for their children’s participation in school outings or activities.

More than 20 percent said they could not afford to visit a doctor.

42 percent said they could not afford dental treatment for their children.

37 percent said they could not afford medications prescribed by a doctor.

Salvation Army WA spokesman Warren Palmer said it appeared that the Government’s battling of poverty was not a war it was winning. Unless Governments prioritise addressing poverty then all indicators evidence that the future for an increasing number of Australians is a bleak one.

“It is the depth of the hardship that is so confronting in these findings,” said Mr Palmer.

“The length that people will go to reduce the basic essentials of life just to get by, that is the thing that has surprised us the most in this year’s survey. Certainly things are getting worse.”

He said people are sinking further into hardship.

Western Australia is Australia’s richest State, with its mining boom – 46 percent of Australia’s gross exports are from West Australia and the State is 17 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product, but more than 90,000 West Australians sought help from the Salvation Army last year – these people may well ask,“What mining boom?”

Western Australia has Australia’s highest homelessness average proportion to population with the Pilbara – the heart of the mining boom – having a homelessness rate three times the State average, and the Kimberley – a tourist mecca – ten times the State average. Last year’s Australian Bureau of Statistic’s Census reported a rise in homelessness in Western Australia. Seven per cent of the Kimberley is effectively homeless.

In snapshots around Australia the writing is on the wall for tougher times ahead for the homeless and the poor. Cairns is a high homelessness rate with an estimated 1400 homeless people according to the Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS).

The Homeless Health Outreach Team was cut a couple of weeks ago. The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital Health Service (CHHHS) will no longer have the program to depend on.

QCOSS CEO Mark Henley said the Homeless Health Outreach Team was an important element in dealing with the region’s homelessness.

“They were one of the critical partners in addressing homeless issues in Cairns.”

“Mental health is one of those services and that will be a serious loss for the Cairns community.”

Three of the Outreach workers have been made redundant. Ten other staff have been relocated to other sectors within the CHHHS and into new roles. Two hundred staff lost their jobs after a restructure to the CHHHS. Such are the priorities of Governments these days.

The bent to close down programs makes a mockery of the Federal Government’s White Paper on Homelessness – ‘The Road Home.’

Mr Henley said that in the brief time since the termination of the program the predicament for homeless people in the region and nearby has life had worsened –people need support services and someone to turn to when in need.

“It is going to result in less flexible responses to some of Cairns’ most vulnerable people.”

“They’re people that require good, strong levels of support.”

“You don’t want to see quality services taken away from vulnerable people,” he says.

About 230,000 Australians engage with a homeless service each year and 100,000 of them were children or young people under 24 years of age.

During the 2011-12 financial year the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report found an average of 19.000 people slept in government-supported accommodation each night of that period.

AIHW’s Geoff Neideck said more women and children than in previous years sought government-supported accommodation. He said that on average people who needed accommodation were housed for 82 nights.

But people are still missing out on help.

Photo - sensesmaybenumbed

Photo – sensesmaybenumbed

Homelessness Australia CEO Nicole Lawder said 137,000 requests for help were not met during the 2011-12 financial year.

At the time the Federal Housing and Homelessness Minister Brendan O’Connor did the half glass full with, “The findings show that our investment is working, almost 230,000 vulnerable Australians were helped last financial year by almost 1500 agencies.”

He fell on his sword with the mantra that the Government is on track to reach its goal of halving homelessness by 2020. Indeed two years later the statistics and research do not support this claim being continued. Worse yet the homeless numbers have risen and all reports point to those in already enduring poverty that they are falling deeper into hardship.

Another finding is homeless agencies across Australia have been reporting an increase in the average age of those who are seeking their help.

Travis Gilbert from Homelessness Australia said there had been a rise in the median age.

“They’re falling into homelessness and eventually ending up in the homelessness service system.”

St Vincent de Paul Society Western Australia CEO Mark Fitzpatrick said the 35 to 55 age group, particularly with young families, is increasing in its representation for those provided with services and support.

Out of control rental prices have demolished people’s budgets and now there is no longer only mortgage stress but also renters stress.

Late last year with Christmas approaching Homelessness Australia’s Nicole Lawder said 12 per cent of NSW’s neediest who were seeking shelter were being turned away.

“We need to secure investment in new social housing and support services so we remain on track to halve by 2020,” said Ms Lawder.

At the time she said, “With Christmas coming a lot of people think about homelessness but homelessness is a year round issue.”

According to the ABS, 105,237 people were considered homeless on census night last year, which is a jump from just under 90,000 people at the 2006 census – a rise of 17 per cent.

When overall population growth is taken into account, the rate of homelessness is estimated to have risen 8 per cent over the five-year period.

More people are living in overcrowded housing predicaments than ever before.

St Vincent de Paul Society’s CEO John Falzon said the high rate of overcrowding demonstrated unequivocally the need for more social housing.

Since the 2006 ABS Census there has been a dramatic jump in the number of people living in overcrowded conditions – the 2012 Census reported 41,390 living in overcrowded housing.

The Northern Territory recorded a marginal improvement in reference to the 2006 and 2011 Censuses but its homeless rate remains the nation’s worst – a horrific one with nearly eight per cent of the population homeless. It is one of the world’s worst records.

Nationwide a 2012 Census snapshot describes:

  • 105,237 homeless people, up from 89,728 in 2006.
  • 49 people are homeless for every 10,000, up 8 per cent from 45 in 2006.
  • Homelessness is up more than 20 per cent in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.
  • About three quarters of the increase in homelessness was accounted for by people born overseas.
  • Little change in the total number of homeless Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, up 3 per cent to 26,744.

Ms Lawder said the Government’s interim figure to reduce homelessness by 20 per cent by 2013 while on its way to halving homelessness by 2020 has failed.

In a recent report by Lifehouse, a Gold Coast located project, they revealed that each year more than 200 young mothers and their children find themselves homeless. On any given night on the Gold Coast there are about 50 people sleeping rough.

Lifehouse’s president Ruth Knight has responded with a program from her organisation –Nightstop.

Nightstop is a program modelled from successful projects in the United Kingdom. The program focuses on taking women and their children, especially babies, off the streets.

“We need a pathway – three weeks in Nightstop is the stopgap, time to be stabilised and assessed,” says Mrs Knight.

“All we need is somebody to step up and say I’m going to organise this.”

Ms Knight has worked with homeless people for the last decade. She said homelessness is community problem and it should not be met with deaf ears and by the turning of a blind eye.

She said there are many thousands of families with a spare bedroom who can help out mothers with children who have nowhere else but the streets to go to. Ms Knight said even if it is only for a couple of nights it makes a difference. If enough households register with. Lifehouse for the Nightstop program then the program will make a substantive difference in the lives of people in need and it can anywhere in Australia said Ms Knight.

Finding a permanent solution to homelessness for everyone requires the full suite of Government funding but this will not happen without a radicalisation of priorities. In the meantime homelessness services and projects need to be supported.

Common Grounds Tasmania (CGT) has two inner city apartment complexes in Hobart with the first suite of apartments having been in operation nearly ten months.

CGT Director Liz Thomas said her organisation works to blend everyone into community without the apartments being identifiable as social forms of housing or emergency accommodation.

CGT aims to break the homelessness cycle by providing support right where they reside –there is a 24 hour concierge on site. There are communal living spaces to encourage social interaction. There is onsite access to government support services.

“We all need to stand up and say that it is not good enough in Hobart that there are people who have nowhere to sleep that’s safe and warm. I think it is only when you use those combined energies that we really are about finding a permanent solution,” said Ms Thomas.

“No matter how people arrive at the door, when they walk through it they’re tenants.”

The CGT has a prevention philosophy to homelessness taking in not only those who have been chronically homeless but also those who are struggling on a low income and for whom so-called affordable housing is not an option.

CGT tenants comprise a minimum of 40 per cent who were formerly chronically homeless and 60 per cent who are low income earners.

When the tenants first move in to the fully furnished apartments they receive a month’s supply of food to help them settle in.

But what do you do about the Northern Territory? The Northern Territory has one of the world’s worst homelessness rates – outside of internally displaced peoples. Its homeless rate is 17 times the national average.

The Australian Government lauds its wealth and its stature amongst the world’s wealthiest economies but it cannot find the will to prioritise the homeless and the most vulnerable.

In the very least Federal and State Government jurisdictions need to do more for the homeless by developing homeless friendly precincts in major cities and towns –safe spaces, storage facilities, suites of showers and laundries, treatment centres and where possible do more in terms of providing accessible psychosocial counselling and support officers who can assist with education and employment pathway services. Where funds have been promised for hostels and emergency accommodation and crises centres these promises should be kept.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *