(Transcript from World News Radio)
Social service groups working to tackle homelessness have breathed a sigh of relief, following the federal government’s one-year funding extension for the homeless sector.
But they’re calling for a long-term strategy to deal with the problem – with special attention being paid to at-risk groups including Indigenous people, and women.
Greg Dyett, with this report by Adeshola Ore.
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Homelessness is a growing issue in Australia.
According to Bureau of Statistics figures, the number of homeless people on any given night has risen from 90,000 in 2006, to well over 100,000 now.
The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness funds 180 specialist services nationwide.
Its funding was due to expire at the end of June.
But Social Services Minister, Kevin Andrews, has announced $115 million for homelessness services over the next year.
That’s down $44 million from the amount promised by the previous Labor government.
Chief Executive of Victoria’s Council to Homeless Persons, Jenny Smith, says she’s disappointed.
“There’s a $44 million gap and what we understand from the government is that it is the capital component and that is a real shame because in a national sense that’s not a huge amount of money for investment in social housing and the absence of growth in social housing is one of the big drivers of homelessness.”
CEO of Homelessness Australia, Glenda Stevens, is hoping the federal government won’t be making further funding cuts.
“They have also said that they are very keen to support the most vulnerable members of our community and help then get back on their feet so they can get back on their feet so they can re-join society and they can lead healthy and happy lives. And be part of the community, so I hold high hopes that there won’t be cuts in the future; that we’ll be able to work out something that is very practical and sustainable.”
Glenda Stevens says a multi-faceted approach is needed to address the problem of homelessness on a long-term basis.
“We need to have all the different areas of homelessness and housing working together, working out a program that addresses the individual needs of every person who is at risk of experiencing homelessness. It’s a very complex area because each client has different needs. Some may have physical or mental health needs, while others have financial needs. Some have a need for emotional counselling, other people have quite straightforward needs – they just need somewhere to sleep somewhere close to call home.”
Jenny Smith, from the Council to Homeless Persons in Victoria says many Australians on low incomes are at a high risk of becoming homeless.
“If you’re on a low income and trying to get into the rental market, which is really your only option if you can’t get into social housing. If you’re a single mum with a child you’ve got less than 5 per cent of rentals you can afford. And if you’re a young person on a Centrelink payment you can afford less than 1 per cent of the rentals. So you can see how it’s a very, very small step from being on a low income with limited supports, a very small step into homelessness.”
Jenny Smith says the federal and state governments should implement a range of strategies to make more public housing available to people on low incomes.
“We really need to see the taxation strategies shifted, we really need to see more efforts made in planning. We need a lot more social housing built routinely into planning efforts and we also do need to see governments directly invest in social housing.”
CEO of the Council on the Ageing NSW, Ian Day, agrees there’s not enough affordable housing available.
“What we really need to be doing is addressing the whole issue of the cost of housing, the stock of housing and how to address the issue of homelessness. There are a group of people, a large group of people and growing group of people who are homeless despite really trying to live a frugal sort of life, but they just cannot afford to get into a house.”
Glenda Stevens from Homelessness Australia says one group that need special attention are women and children fleeing domestic violence.
“One area that needs a great deal of focus is support for women and children escaping domestic violence. Of the 244,000 who presented for homelessness services every year, the highest percentage of those are women and children escaping domestic violence. Every day 417 requests go unmet and the highest request is for somewhere safe to sleep.”
Council on the Ageing New South Wales says another group at particular risk of becoming homeless are older women.
CEO of the Council, Ian Day, says there are a number of reasons why women are more likely to struggle with housing.
“In many cases women because of child care responsibilities or employers perceiving their child care responsibilities. Women, number one are being paid less, number two seem not to develop the same number of savings, and three tend not to have the same level of superannuation.”
Ian Day says even women on middle incomes can be at risk.
“You could be earning quite a decent salary while your approaching retirement, but that salary has never been sufficient for you to put money aside to buy a home and that’s because you’ve been bringing up kids alone and that sort of reasoning.”
Glenda Stevens from Homelessness Australia says more effort also needs to be made to bring down a very high rate of homelessness among Indigenous Australians.
“Indigenous members of Australia only make up 3 per cent of our population, but generally about 20 per cent of the homelessness community are people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. And once again, they have complex needs and different needs to those of us with an Anglo background.”
Ian Day from Council on the Ageing New South Wales agrees the high rate of homelessness among Indigenous people is a big problem.
“The whole Indigenous community have got the difficulty of homelessness and so forth particularly if they are in the private rental market.”
Glenda Stevens from Homelessness Australia says young people from non-English speaking backgrounds are around six times more likely to become homeless than those born in Australia.
And she says migrant and refugee women are another group at a higher risk of homelessness.
“There is a high risk of homelessness for migrants and refugee women, because when they come to Australia, quite often the circumstances in Australia and what’s considered the community norm is different from their homeland. Perhaps they’ve come from a background when domestic violence is considered acceptable or perhaps the dynamics between the husband and the wife or partners is different and as women become a little bit more empowered in Australia, the relationship changes and they do want to seek alternate lifestyles.”