3636 children under 12 are homeless in NSW. They deserve a dedicated Housing Minister

This week I introduced a motion highlighting the pressing challenges of social housing provision and homelessness in NSW and called for a dedicated Housing Minister. Since 1919 New South Wales has always had a Housing Minister but not under this government.

Some of New South Wales’ longest serving Housing Ministers

Who is this man??

Who is this?

And this man??

What about this man? 

Who is this?

My motion below is trying to encourage the New South Wales Liberal and National Government to appoint a dedicated Housing Minister.

Ms Barham to move—

1. That the House notes that:
(a) every Australian State and Territory Government has a Minister for Housing,
(b) New South Wales Governments of all political persuasions have historically recognised the importance of having a Minister for Housing,

(c) from 1919, when David Robert Hall was the Minister for Housing in the William Holman Government, to 2011, when the Honourable Francesco Terenzini MP was the  Minister for Housing in the Keneally Government, New South Wales has always had a Minister for Housing,

(d) a recent Auditor-General Report highlighted that the New South Wales social housing portfolio only meets approximately 44 per cent of need, with over 55,000 applicants of the social housing waiting list, which may increase to 86,000 by 2016,

(e) 28,191 people are experiencing homelessness in New South Wales, with children under 12 years making up 12.9 per cent of the total number, and

(f) the Productivity Commission in its July 2013 report entitled “Deep and Persistent  Disadvantage in Australia” acknowledged that “almost a quarter of public housing tenants experience deep and persistent social exclusion” and that public housing tenants represent over a fifth of all those who are deeply and persistently disadvantaged.

2. That this House calls upon the Government to immediately appoint a Government member as New South Wales Minister for Housing and Homelessness to address the pressing challenges critical to the health and wellbeing of the people of New South Wales.

Time for a dedicated Minister to address the homelessness and housing crisis

With Homeless Persons’ Week 2013 commencing on Monday, 5 August, Greens Housing spokesperson Jan Barham has called for the Premier to appoint a single Minister to deliver a coordinated response to the housing crisis in New South Wales.

“Homelessness has been rising, social housing is unable to cope with demand and housing affordability pressures are growing worse. There is a need for urgent, coordinated action across the housing and homelessness sector, and the best way to ensure Government is dealing with the issue is to assign full responsibility to one Minister,” Ms Barham said.

Under the O’Farrell Government, housing responsibilities have been divided between the Minister for Family and Community Services, whose portfolio includes Housing NSW and public housing tenancies, and the Minister for Finance and Services, who has oversight of the Land and Housing Corporation that controls public housing stock, including its sale and redevelopment.

“Decisions to sell off public housing entirely, or to redevelop and hand some of the land over to the private market, have to be aligned with evidence about where the housing pressures are greatest and how we can best meet the needs of people unable to access the private housing sector,” Ms Barham said.

“The Auditor-General’s recent report into public housing highlights the problems of housing supply shortages and the Government’s massive maintenance backlog, along with the vulnerable status of many who are already in public housing or on the waiting list.

“The recommendations of the Auditor-General point to several key plans and reviews that need to be in place by the end of this year and during 2014. I’m concerned that so many sell-offs and redevelopments of public property have already taken place, yet we haven’t seen a clear strategy or detailed figures about how this will be turned into more effective and better quality social housing.

Ms Barham noted in the upcoming Budget Estimates hearings she would seek greater clarity about how the Government plan to reverse the trend in homelessness and pressure on public housing. “I hope the Government will take advantage of the Estimates process to deliver some clarity to Parliament and the public. Questions asked in Parliament haven’t been responded to with much clarity or detail so far,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Homeless Persons’ Week 2013

Auditor-General’s report on Making the best use of public housing

Call for Parliamentary inquiry following dire report into public housing

Greens MP and Housing spokesperson, Jan Barham, is calling for a Parliamentary inquiry into the housing affordability crisis, after an Auditor-General’s report today highlighted the failure of the public housing system.

“The Auditor-General has shown that the social housing sector isn’t able to meet the needs of our most vulnerable, yet the demand for urgent support is increasing. Between increasing housing affordability pressures and deteriorating public housing stock, the Government is unable to meet the needs of many vulnerable people across the state,” Ms Barham said.

“The existing public housing stock is old and neglected, and the Auditor-General’s recognition of the lack of planning for housing is of great concern.

“A Parliamentary inquiry into housing affordability is essential following this damning report. The inquiry must look at the social factors and the impact of disadvantage that can ultimately lead to homelessness, as well as the economic and planning issues affecting housing affordability. The crisis in housing demands new ideas to provide shelter for the vulnerable and make housing more affordable.

“We also need a clear picture about what the Government can do to deliver housing stock that is socially and financially sustainable. There are outstanding questions for the Government around the funds from the sale of lands and what is to be delivered from those sales,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham also expressed concern that the pressure to accommodate new priority tenants might see existing tenants who are also vulnerable or disadvantaged exposed to increased financial pressure and social disruption.

“The conclusions and recommendations in this report highlight the massive waiting lists and demands on social housing, but it’s important to also meet the ongoing needs of existing tenants, many of whom are from disadvantaged groups.

“The introduction of a bedroom tax and changes to tenancy succession could harm the financial and social wellbeing of existing tenants, many of whom are older or have a disability. An inquiry must consider strategies that recognise the importance of people’s existing community connections, while ensuring that more tenants can be accommodated in the public housing system,” Ms Barham concluded.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Auditor-General’s report on Making the best use of public housing

Budget doesn’t deliver support for vulnerable families and households

The NSW Budget has fallen short on funding to address the risks of abuse, neglect and homelessness, says Greens MP and spokesperson on Family and Community Services, Jan Barham.

“The Budget was an opportunity to deliver much-needed increases for services that support disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, but new announcements in this area were in short supply. It’s a disappointing underinvestment in prevention, which will mean too much of the burden continues to fall on crisis services,” Ms Barham said.

“We know from the experts and the evidence that early intervention and prevention services are crucial to long-term reductions in harm to children, and to tackling the alarming number of children in out-of-home care. But the funding to these services and the number of families they reach will be largely unchanged under next year’s forecast.”

Ms Barham also noted that the Budget offered little to address the housing needs of those most vulnerable to homelessness.

“Although funding to homelessness services will continue for another year under a transitional National Partnership Agreement, the long-term solution is to deliver more options for people to access social and affordable housing. The announcement of several initiatives, each of which will deliver only a few hundred dwellings, won’t do enough to help the tens of thousands of people on the waiting list for social housing,” Ms Barham said.

“Government must work to reduce the harm and hardship experienced by our society’s most vulnerable. Keeping families safe and together, and ensuring they have a stable home, are fundamental aims that needed more investment than this Budget delivered.”

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Holiday let decision good for housing availability and local communities

Greens MP and spokesperson for Tourism and Housing, Jan Barham, has welcomed the Land and Environment Court decision on holiday letting of a residential-zoned dwelling in Terrigal.

“The Court’s clarification that homes in residential zones that were intended for long-term occupancy are inappropriate for tourism purposes is an important outcome for local communities. In coastal areas especially, the use of homes for short-term tourism rentals has seen many potential homes lost to permanent residents, causing a shortage in housing supply. The last two Census reports have shown that Byron Bay, where many homes have been given over to holiday lets, has lost permanent residents, and this has seen an erosion of community spirit,” Ms Barham said.

“In terms of tourism use, holiday letting has not served the community well. It has operated as an unapproved use that hasn’t contributed financially to council to offset the pressures of tourism. In an area already under housing stress such as Byron Bay, it has diminished the available rental stock for locals and has meant that essential workers such as teachers, nurses and tradespeople have not been able to find affordable housing.”

“The use of residential-zoned dwellings for tourism purposes has also had a major impact on housing prices, as buyers were lured into higher purchase prices on the expectation of high rental returns. During the peak tourism and event periods such as Schoolies, rents of $5,000 per week have not been uncommon. But often the homes sit vacant for long periods and the loss of neighbours and a sense of community has been devastating. During times of peak short-term
rental, the impacts can be unbearable as noise and antisocial behaviour have often forced people to move when amenity is lost.”

“For over a decade this issue has been a problem in Byron Bay and it has escalated across other coastal communities. As well as the unplanned impacts on locals, there have been risks for tourists due to the lack of appropriate planning conditions, such as for fire and structural safety.”

“Local government faces a difficult task in addressing housing availability and affordability. This decision clarifies the use of approved residential dwellings for permanent residents, which should free up dwellings to ease the housing stress and ensure that tourism occurs in appropriate areas,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Strategies for affordable housing and homelessness prevention must be urgent priorities

Action to address the need for affordable housing and reduce homelessness across NSW must be a higher priority from the Government, says Jan Barham, Greens MP and Housing spokesperson.

“New South Wales needs urgent, innovative action and a strong commitment of funding and support. The Government must ensure we see a growth in affordable housing that meets the changing needs of our population, including those who are ageing and people with disabilities,” Ms Barham said.

“Housing stress is not just about the cost of buying or renting. Although affordability is obviously a key challenge, it’s also about ensuring people are in homes that meet their needs, that developments and redevelopments throughout the state provide an adequate range of housing options, and that maintain people’s connections to their community.”

Ms Barham warned that the levels of homelessness in NSW highlight the need to support the state’s most vulnerable individuals and families, and ensure there was an ongoing plan to reduce the risk of homelessness. Recently the NSW upper house supported a motion that addressed homelessness and identified the need to focus on local solutions.

“A one-year extension to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness is a necessary stop-gap, not a solution. There needs to be an ongoing agreement. The NSW Government must commit to a long-term strategy for providing housing and services to those in need, and must also work with local government to ensure people have the best chance to find affordable, stable housing.”

“On Census night 2011, more than 28,000 people living in New South Wales were homeless, an increase of around 6,000 people since 2006, which is a more than 20% rise in the homelessness rate. But thousands more are living in marginal housing, including improvised dwellings, caravan parks and crowded homes, or couch surfing and are at risk of homelessness,” Ms Barham said.

“We must reverse the homelessness trend, address the factors that leave people vulnerable to homelessness and seek an ongoing funding agreement with the Commonwealth.”

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

Motion on Homelessness, as passed by NSW Legislative Council on 21 March 2013:
1. That, while taking into account the inherent difficulties in accurately measuring the rates of homelessness, this House notes that:

 (a) according to the 2006 National Census, at least 27,374 people were considered homeless in New South Wales,
 (b) according to a 2009 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) entitled “Counting the Homeless”, this figure can be broken down into the following categories:
  (i) primary homelessness: at least 3,715 people, or 13 per cent of respondents, were sleeping rough in improvised dwellings,
  (ii) secondary homelessness: at least 16,033 people, or 59% of respondents, were staying with friends or relatives, or in short term accommodation provided through formal assistance,
  (iii) tertiary homelessness: at least 7,626 people, or 28 per cent of respondents, were sleeping in facilities providing longer term accommodation such as boarding houses,
 (c) according to the same AIHW report, there is a significant incidence of homelessness among children and young people in New South Wales, with 10,587 of those counted aged under 24 (39 per cent),
 (d) according to the same AIHW report, the number of older homeless people is growing, with 30 per cent of the homeless in New South Wales aged 45 or older, up from 25 per cent in 2001,
 (e) it is widely estimated that over 7 per cent of the entire homeless population of New South Wales are Aboriginal, which is well above the 2.2 per cent of the total New South Wales Aboriginal population, and
 (f) documented rates of the prevalence of mental health issues in homeless people vary markedly but an extensive research paper published in 1998 by Hodder, Teeson and Burich entitled “Down and Out in Sydney” found that 75 per cent of participants in the study had at least one mental illness, compared to 20 per cent in the general population.

2. That this House further notes:

 (a) the report of the NSW Auditor General entitled “Responding to Homelessness”, dated May 2007,
 (b) the report of New South Wales Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues entitled “Homelessness and low-cost rental accommodation”, dated September 2009,
 (c) the Government’s subsequent response to the report of the Social Issues Committee’s inquiry, dated 2010, and
 (d) the revised National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness signed on 13 April 2012.

3. That this House welcomes:

 (a) the continuation of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Homelessness, and
 (b) the implementation of the revised Homeless Persons Protocol.

4. That this House encourages:

 (a) all local councils to have a nominated staff member tasked with the responsibility of ensuring their council adheres to the Homeless Persons Protocol, and
 (b) all local councils to report on local initiatives for addressing homelessness in their local government area in their annual report.

5. That this House calls for:

 (a) a review of the ten Regional Homeless Action Plans that were developed in July 2010, together with a progress report, and
 (b) consideration of a funding program to support local government to meet the needs of homeless people.

Easter is a time to commit to helping the homeless

The Greens spokesperson on Family and Community Services, Jan Barham, has encouraged people to consider what their local community can do to help those who are homeless and at risk of homelessness.

“For those who celebrate Easter as a religious holiday, this is of course a time for reflection on self-sacrifice and caring for people. But for everyone this is a time when we should remember our most vulnerable and what can be done to support them,” Ms Barham said.

“While many people are planning to get away from home during the long weekend or the upcoming school holidays, far too many Australians can’t even contemplate a holiday because they are struggling to find a stable home. The impact of homelessness will only worsen as winter approaches and the fact that an increasing number of children are homeless is of great concern.”

“Homelessness is an issue that all sides of politics recognise we must address. Last week the NSW upper house passed a motion I presented on homelessness, with MPs from the Government, ALP and the Christian Democrats all speaking strongly in support,” Ms Barham said.

“The acknowledgment of the crucial role of developing regional and local solutions is an important position. Many MP’s spoke of people in their community who have been affected by homelessness. At a community level, local government is encouraged to adopt initiatives that address homelessness. The motion proposed that the NSW Government consider funding a program that would assist councils with homelessness services.”

“I encourage everyone to take some time this long weekend to think about what they can do about homelessness in their community. Look at what you can do to help your community organisations that are struggling to help those people who are facing difficult times and contact your councillors about local action on this issue.”

“The clear message on homelessness is that it can happen to anyone. With job losses, illness and the shortage of affordable housing it is a sad reality for our country that the homeless rate is increasing. As a caring society this is one issue that we can all address at a local level. Taking the time to contribute to the needs of the vulnerable can make a real difference,” Ms Barham said.

Current Figures – 2011 Census date:
NSW – 28,190 homeless persons; 3,632 were aged under 12, and 2,642 aged 12-18.

Motion on Homelessness, as passed by NSW Legislative Council on 21 March 2013:
1. That, while taking into account the inherent difficulties in accurately measuring the rates of homelessness, this House notes that:

 (a) according to the 2006 National Census, at least 27,374 people were considered homeless in New South Wales,
 (b) according to a 2009 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) entitled “Counting the Homeless”, this figure can be broken down into the following categories:
  (i) primary homelessness: at least 3,715 people, or 13 per cent of respondents, were sleeping rough in improvised dwellings,
  (ii) secondary homelessness: at least 16,033 people, or 59% of respondents, were staying with friends or relatives, or in short term accommodation provided through formal assistance,
  (iii) tertiary homelessness: at least 7,626 people, or 28 per cent of respondents, were sleeping in facilities providing longer term accommodation such as boarding houses,
 (c) according to the same AIHW report, there is a significant incidence of homelessness among children and young people in New South Wales, with 10,587 of those counted aged under 24 (39 per cent),
 (d) according to the same AIHW report, the number of older homeless people is growing, with 30 per cent of the homeless in New South Wales aged 45 or older, up from 25 per cent in 2001,
 (e) it is widely estimated that over 7 per cent of the entire homeless population of New South Wales are Aboriginal, which is well above the 2.2 per cent of the total New South Wales Aboriginal population, and
 (f) documented rates of the prevalence of mental health issues in homeless people vary markedly but an extensive research paper published in 1998 by Hodder, Teeson and Burich entitled “Down and Out in Sydney” found that 75 per cent of participants in the study had at least one mental illness, compared to 20 per cent in the general population.

2. That this House further notes:

 (a) the report of the NSW Auditor General entitled “Responding to Homelessness”, dated May 2007,
 (b) the report of New South Wales Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues entitled “Homelessness and low-cost rental accommodation”, dated September 2009,
 (c) the Government’s subsequent response to the report of the Social Issues Committee’s inquiry, dated 2010, and
 (d) the revised National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness signed on 13 April 2012.

3. That this House welcomes:

 (a) the continuation of the Premier’s Advisory Council on Homelessness, and
 (b) the implementation of the revised Homeless Persons Protocol.

4. That this House encourages:

 (a) all local councils to have a nominated staff member tasked with the responsibility of ensuring their council adheres to the Homeless Persons Protocol, and
 (b) all local councils to report on local initiatives for addressing homelessness in their local government area in their annual report.

5. That this House calls for:

 (a) a review of the ten Regional Homeless Action Plans that were developed in July 2010, together with a progress report, and
 (b) consideration of a funding program to support local government to meet the needs of homeless people.

Local solutions and contacts crucial in tackling homelessness

Jan Barham, Greens MP and Housing spokesperson, welcomes the focus on addressing homelessness but emphasises the vital role of local services, including local government, in delivering innovative and effective solutions.

Her comments follow the release of the NSW Government’s Going Home Staying Home Reform Plan. “It’s positive to see that the Government has taken on board comments from the homelessness sector about the need to focus on delivering services that meet the needs of different individuals and regions,” Ms Barham said.

“Encouraging regional planning and identifying local innovations that might be transferred to other areas are a good starting point, but to carry this through the role of local government needs to be recognised. Councils across the state are making concerted and innovative efforts to address homelessness in their local government areas, and supporting these services is crucial.”

Ms Barham noted that immediate, local access to information and support was essential to helping people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

“A state-wide phone service and a ‘no wrong door’ policy are good starting points, but the key is ensuring that people can find the local support they need, as soon as they need it. As one example, a local service centre was established in Byron Bay to be a ‘one stop shop’ where people can talk to someone and access the range of services they might require, from both government and non-government providers. It also gives them a place where they can have some basic needs met like showers and washing machines, meals and somewhere safe to leave their belongings.

“In implementing this plan, I hope the NSW Government and their homelessness advisory bodies will recognise the importance of supporting local government in the service framework.”

Jan Barham’s Motion on Homelessness, 18 October 2012

Dob-in line a distraction from housing pressures

Encouraging people to “dob in” unauthorised public housing occupants is an ineffective strategy that demonises tenants while ignoring the real problems facing our public housing system, warns Greens MP and housing spokesperson Jan Barham.

“The NSW Government’s announcement of an amnesty to declare unauthorised occupants in public housing is supported but calling for a ‘dob in’ campaign is unfair and disrespectful,” Ms Barham said.

“The evidence has shown the failure of ‘dob in’ strategies. The experience with the Federal tip-off line for Centrelink fraud shows that we can expect a very small number of calls to be acted upon. An anonymous dob-in system can become bogged down with complaints that are often incorrect, unsubstantiated and in some cases vexatious,” Ms Barham said.

Ms Barham said that although ensuring accurate occupancy information and rental assessments are reasonable goals, the focus on “rorters” risked demonising public housing tenants. “An amnesty to encourage tenants to provide Housing NSW with accurate information about the occupants of their homes is a useful approach, but the immediate call for people to report anyone they suspect of rorting the system implies fraud is a widespread problem among public housing tenants,” Ms Barham said.

“I’m concerned that the public focus on fraud is a distraction from the major challenges the Government needs to tackle in providing housing support. There is a severe shortage of social housing stock across the state, thousands of people remain on waiting lists and most of the available allocations to public housing go to those with emergency or special needs.

“There is an ongoing need to expand the resources available to support people who are struggling to put a roof over their head. With federal cuts to single parent and other payments from their already low baseline, the pressure is only going to increase, and encouraging what might be many groundless accusations against existing tenants won’t solve the housing crisis in New South Wales,” Ms Barham said.

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

People without homes shouldn’t be without hope

The NSW Greens spokesperson for Housing and Homelessness, Jan Barham MLC, is calling on the State Government to demonstrate their commitment to people across the State who find themselves homeless.

The call comes as National Homeless Person’s week is marked across the country.

“This week we will be reminded that approximately 30,000 people in NSW are considered homeless” said Jan Barham. “That’s 30,000 people spending tonight without a bed and without a home.”

“The reality is that people find themselves in this position for a whole host of reasons – they may have been rejected from their family home, have mental health issues, be fleeing domestic violence or dealing with addiction or they may just suddenly find themselves in financial trouble, unable to cope with the increasing cost of living.”

“Whatever the reason for someone becoming homeless, it’s up to all of us as a responsible and caring society to ensure there is support and help available. I am presenting a motion to the Parliament seeking a Government commitment to increase the delivery of support for these vulnerable people.”

The motion will be presented when Parliament resumes next week, calling for a range of initiatives including that:

  • the Premier’s Advisory Council on Homelessness be retained and meet regularly;
  • all Councils to have a nominated staff member responsible for ensuring their Council adheres to the Homeless Persons Protocol;
  • all Councils to be required to report on local initiatives for addressing homelessness in their Local Government Area in their Annual Report;
  • the 10 Regional Homeless Action Plans developed in July 2010 be reviewed;
  • the balance of funds from the NSW allocation under the 2009-10 National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness be identified for a funding program to support local government to meet the needs of homeless people;

“I believe there is a stronger role for local councils to play in the provision of services” said Jan. “They know the local problems and they know the local solutions. I’m encouraging the State to work more closely with local government to allow them to be part of the solution, working with non government organisations – but only with adequate support and funding from the State. There is a role for the Government in providing a funding source to local communities to assist in supporting those who find themselves without a home and desperately in need of access to services and support.”

Full text of Jan Barham’s Motion in Parliament – NSW LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL.Motion 698 – Homelessness (BARHAM)

National Homeless Person’s Week 2012 runs from August 6th – 12th and more information can be found at www.HomelessnessAustralia.org.au

A summary of Jan’s actions on homelessness – Summary of Greens Actions on Homelessness May 2012

For Further Comment, please contact Jan Barham directly on 0407 065 061

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