BY MICK DALEY
Last week’s release of figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on homelessness have prompted withering scorn from community commentators.
The Greens and leading charities have expressed outrage at the figures, which show the rate of estimated homelessness up from 40 in every 10,000 people in 2011 to 50 in every 10,000 in 2016.
Mission Australia has released a damning statement on the figures confirming that 37,715 men, women and children are now going without a safe, permanent place to call home on any given night in NSW.
The NSW state government has presided over a period in which the increase in homelessness not only doubles the national figure at a staggering 37 per cent, it indicates that over 116,000 more people are now without accommodation across a nation debating whether or not to give $36 billion in corporate tax cuts to its wealthiest corporations.
And while the cost of living, rentals and real estate continue to rise, the federal Coalitions plans to introduce a new Welfare Reform Bill looks set to cut payments to more than 80,000 people.
Mission Australia CEO James Toomey says the organisation has been warning of a spike in homelessness for too long, based on the nation’s inadequate planning and social housing provisions.
“It is an international embarrassment caused by the long-term absence of a national coordinated plan and the lack of a serious commitment to building new social and affordable homes,” he said.
“We cannot afford to ignore this situation any longer. Safe and secure housing provides the platform for children to attend school, adults to work, people to be healthy and communities to thrive.
Mr Toomey says Mission Australia has devised a plan to combat homelessness, based on a Housing First Approach that has been shown to work in Canada and parts of the US.
They want a national strategy that addresses key homelessness drivers including family violence, poverty and the lack of affordable housing.
He said it would deliver 300,000 new social homes and 200,000 affordable rental properties by 2030.
“We know what works. We need a coherent national strategy and a long term commitment from government to build new social and affordable homes. This requires commitment from all governments, from the corporate sector, charities and individuals.”
Mr Toomey said the plan would involve a review of tax breaks to property investors and 30 per cent increase in Rent Assistance payments, as well as new housing stock delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“The housing market is not delivering for those on the lowest and even moderate incomes. The lack of appropriate social and affordable housing is very clearly evidenced in the alarming rise in overcrowding, particularly in NSW, where the housing market has seen some of the most significant price rises.
Greens MP Jenny Leong points the finger squarely at government ministries operating on an ideological agenda.
“A 37 per cent increase in homelessness is cause for serious concern and the figures are not surprising given that just last year in Homelessness Week we saw the Minister for Family and Community Services, who is supposed to be the person in government responsible for providing people with a safe and secure place to live was supportive of a change to laws that allowed police to make Martin Place a restricted zone and move people on who were sleeping rough, as opposed to actually dealing with the issue.
“Allied to the homelessness figures, there’s been an astronomic 74 per cent rise in the numbers of people living in ‘severely’ overcrowded dwellings in NSW which shows that the housing and rental stress in this state is at breaking point,” Ms Leong said.
Leong supported the call for a Housing First approach.
“A Housing First approach has been seen to have an immediate impact on the issues affecting peoples’ lives. It provides for a whole suite of needs, all of those wraparound services that this issue demands.
“Mental health services, addiction services, other support mechanisms and assistance all flows if you provide people with a safe and secure place to live in the first instance.
“The other side of that picture is that we all know that this liberal government has consistently defunded support services, mental health services, refuges and other community services that provide that assistance directly to individual people in need,” Ms Leong said.