Homelessness Week

National Homelessness Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness across the community of issues surrounding homelessness and to provide activities and services for those working in the homelessness sector and those affected by homelessness. We are all aware of the public and tragic face of homelessness. We all pass the huddled figures in our streets every day—almost literally on our doorstep of Parliament House—curled up in sleeping bags in Martin Place or huddled on the steps of the State Library. They are just some of the estimated 3,559 people of New South Wales who sleep rough each night. National Homelessness Week is a chance for us to think about the less visible aspects of homelessness: the 10,950 people in our State who are forced to rely on family and friends for a bed each night, the 5,201 using crisis accommodation and refuges, and the 7,665 living in boarding houses on a medium-term to long-term basis

They are the harsh figures of homelessness in our State—in total at the last census in 2006, nearly 28,000 people in New South Wales were classified as homeless. But even that figure is probably an underestimate as one of the consistent challenges facing those working in the homelessness sector is the lack of reliable data. Accurate and credible figures are integral to understanding homelessness not only so we can measure the extent of the problem but also so we can also evaluate the effectiveness of services. I note this week that the Minister for Family and Community Services launched the Platform 70 Program in Woolloomooloo. I commend the Government for supporting that program which aims to provide housing and support services to 70 chronically homeless people in this area of Sydney. This concept of combining accommodation with essential support services is exactly what non-government organisations such as Mission Australia have been calling for.

On Monday Mission Australia detailed that its frontline staff spent more time helping people with mental health issues than helping people with homelessness issues. This has prompted calls for the model for shelters to be modified to incorporate the provision of essential services. This move towards shelters providing easy access to services is not new to me. I will give an example from my home Byron Bay area. In Byron Bay a house is used as a drop-in centre for homeless people. It is a joint venture of the Byron Bay Community Centre, the Salvation Army, St Vincent’s de Paul and Byron Shire Council. The cottage provides a shelter, the safe storage of personal belongings and access to a variety of services. It is a case of the service providers coming to those in need rather than the expectation that those people make their way to the disbursed services in the area. This example could be replicated across the State, and I would welcome the opportunity to speak with other members about how it can be implemented while we await the long-term program of trying to provide housing for all people in New South Wales.

This move towards a coordinated and person-centred approach to homelessness is completely consistent with priority 6 of the New South Wales Homelessness Action Plan to streamline access to crisis accommodation and specialist homelessness services. This State Action Plan, named “A Way Home”, was released by the State Government in 2009 and lays out some ambitious targets, namely a reduction of 7 per cent in the overall level of homelessness in New South Wales by 2013, a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of people sleeping rough in New South Wales by 2013 and a reduction of one-third in the number of Aboriginal people that are homeless in New South Wales by 2013. These targets are commendable and the strategies outlined to meet them centre around three key approaches: preventing people from being at risk, responding quickly and effectively to homelessness when it occurs, and ensuring people who have been homeless do not become homeless again.

There are many reasons why people find themselves in a position of homelessness—domestic violence, family violence, financial hardship, mental illness or sometimes an unfortunate run of hard luck. For those who find themselves in such a position it is more than just having no bed or food for the night; it is a lack of security and privacy, and a profound sense of isolation and disengagement. In conclusion, I wish to mark this National Week of Homelessness by thanking the hundreds of workers across our State—both paid and volunteers—who do their best every day to assist the homeless. Their patience, compassion and dedication are to be commended.