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BFCSA: Australian Empty Homes: cranes in the air and homelessness continues to increase, national obscenity

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'National obscenity' still a blight - homelessness continues to increase

Sydney Morning Herald April 15 2017

Amy Remeikis, Neelima Choahan

 How did we get here?  Cannot afford to live in our own country?  Only the uber wealthy can survive?  Why is homelessness and housing unaffordability a grand topic right now?  Someone was looking after the Elites.

 

Faced with a growing homelessness issue in one of the world's wealthiest countries, then-prime minister Kevin Rudd declared "something needs to be done".

Nearly 10 years later, the situation is worse than ever.

In 2008, when Mr Rudd announced a White Paper into homelessness in Australia, 200,000 people were recorded as accessing funded support groups for help.

Last financial year, 280,000 people were helped. More than 70,000 people were turned away, with services around the country at capacity.

The figures don't take into account those who sleep rough without making contact but services, anecdotally, have seen an increase.

Another 320,000 Australians live in public housing, with a further 200,000 sitting on a waiting list.

Homelessness Australia said the nation was losing the war against what Mr Rudd had referred to as a "national obscenity".

"What Australia needs is a well-resourced strategy that addresses homelessness by extending evidence-based responses across the country, complemented by the necessary supply of social and affordable housing," Chair Jenny Smith said.

"The current ideas being mooted by the federal government are a series of disjointed ideas that need to be brought together and considered, in addition to current funding."

Peter, who didn't give his last name, has been living in Melbourne's streets for the past nine months.

He said nothing had been done to help the homeless since Mr Rudd's resolve 10 years ago.

The 50-year-old said Australia needed more affordable housing to provide a roof for everyone.

Peter said although he had been on the streets off and on for 10 years, he had been living with his friend for three years.

"I was doing just casual works in factories," he said.

"[My friend] moved back to his parents' place and I had nowhere else to go.

"I ended up moving out of that house, coming into the CBD and living on the streets."

Kylie has been living in the streets for the past couple of months since moving from South Australia.

The 37-year-old said she had been in and out of prisons and came to Melbourne to start afresh.

But she said there were a lot of homeless people on the streets.

"I came this way to Victoria to try get a bit of stability and a home," Kylie said.

"In all the years of my live ... I have never seen more homeless on the streets than this year."

Lanz Priestley has lived on the streets in Sydney for at least six months of every year, since 1991.

He currently lives in Martin Place, where he runs the "24/7 Street Kitchen Safe Space" which gives food, blankets and other supplies to hundreds of people each night who are sleeping rough.

Mr Priestley said in recent years he has seen people on the streets who have never been there before, including older women, many people with full-time jobs and people from regional areas travelling to Sydney for doctor's appointments who can't afford accommodation overnight.

"We've seen a huge explosion of the numbers and the demographics," he said. "In '94 it was a rarity to find anyone on the streets who worked, who stayed there for any length of time. Now we have people who have worked for all the 20 years they've been on the streets. More than half the numbers of rough sleepers work full-time.

"They can't afford housing. We absolutely need to take housing out of the commodities market."

Mr Priestley said people are becoming disengaged with mainstream charities and services. He said there is a need to invest in upstart projects like Orange Sky Laundry, while also addressing the reason people take to the streets in the first place.

"We've got an industry out here that repetitiously works with governments and comes up with one scheme after another ... and under their watch, the problem is getting worse," he said.

"I think we need to look at this holistically. The real problem is the government at all levels is stimulating the increase in the cost of housing while they're handbraking income."

The Salvation Army's Major Brendan Nottle agreed that a long-term, collaborative approach to homelessness was the only way to start addressing it.

"What we would love to see happen is a bipartisan, long-term, strategic approach to the issue of homelessness, right across the nation," he said.

"I think we have to see that his issue of homelessness that we have now, is actually a crisis. It is not something that we can ignore any longer and it's something that we need, not just the government of the day – but politicians from all political persuasions to come together. This can not be a political issue any longer."

Homelessness Australia recommended the federal government commit to at least a five-year funding arrangement for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), to give longer-term certainty to programs, as well as push for more collaboration between the states, and boost funding to initiatives which help prevent homelessness.

But Ms Smith said a "housing first" strategy was crucial to combating the growing issue, meaning governments needed to provide a supply of social housing to meet the demand.

The government provided $1.3 billion to state and territory governments in the past year as part of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, with Assistant Minister for Social Services Zed Seselja adding more than $4 billion in Commonwealth Rent Assistance would be provided to about 1.3 million people in need.

But he acknowledged the numbers kept going up.

"The Coalition government recognises that homelessness is a complex issue that affects many Australians," he said in a statement.

"It requires a long-term and systematic effort across agencies, sectors and the community."

In December last year, the government committed $117 million to extend the NPAH until June 2018.

 

Homelessness has been part of the Council of Australian Governments' agenda since 2015.

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