Last year, our president – Nan Roman – traveled to Australia to learn about different strategies and approaches to ending homelessness there – and offered insight into the best practices we’ve uncovered here.
One of the people she met was Stephen Nash, leader of an NGO called HomeGround Services, which provides housing assistance services, crisis and outreach support, as well as health-oriented programs: many of the supportive services that are critical to ending homelessness.
Here, he offers the Alliance a guest post about how Australians are working together on solutions to homelessness. Enjoy!
Despite Australia’s national wealth and general high standard of living, homelessness is a persistent problem throughout the country. A severe shortage of affordable housing, including both public and community housing; record low private rental vacancies; access barriers for complex needs groups; and a delayed uptake of new approaches like supportive housing and housing first are contributing to the problem. Increasing numbers of children, families, Indigenous people, older people and newly arrived migrants are experiencing various kinds of homelessness.
In late 2008 the newly-elected federal government of Kevin Rudd took a significant step towards ending homelessness in Australia with its release of the first national white paper on homelessness: The Road Home. This provided much needed national leadership on an issue that does not often feature prominently in national political priorities.
The Road Home created measurable national targets along the road to ending homelessness for the first time. The key targets involve halving overall homelessness across Australia and offering accommodation to all people sleeping rough by 2020. The White Paper also committed to ‘turning off the tap’ — preventing people becoming homeless upon exit from institutions and public systems like health, justice and child protection. It also committed to ‘breaking the cycle’ — helping people move quickly through the homelessness system and into long-term stable housing.
In early 2009 the promises of the White Paper were backed up by significant government investment. $6.4 billion (AUSD) was provided to create new social and public housing. This was the biggest investment in social and public housing in Australia for over 50 years.
Under this scheme, innovative housing models, such as Common Ground Supportive Housing, received funding in a number of states. Many Australian Common Ground housing initiatives and other social housing projects are on track to be completed later this year. HomeGround is a partner in delivering Melbourne’s first Common Ground project, Elizabeth Street Common Ground. This is a partnership between HomeGround, Yarra Community Housing, Grocon, the Victorian Government and the Federal Government.
These initiatives have created much hope that homelessness in Australia can be significantly reduced and eventually ended, provided that planning and implementation of reforms is carried out effectively and that internal government coordination between housing, homelessness, health, justice and other departments is effective.
Establishing the principle that providing a home is not enough for many people has been critical in this movement away from ‘managing’ homelessness and towards ‘ending’ it. The idea that quality housing plus ongoing support is the key to ending homelessness for individuals and families is now well accepted by informed policy makers and politicians. This prescription enables individuals and families to achieve and sustain health, wellbeing, employment and education outcomes and, just as importantly, establish a postive place in their communities.
Many challenges remain on the road ahead, but I remain confident that Australia has the public support, political leadership, community sector expertise and the private and community partners needed to achieve these homelessness reduction goals as part of creating a fairer and more inclusive Australia.