Ending Homelessness

(Question Time, 9 August 2018, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House)

My question is directed to the Premier. Given that nearly 40,000 people in New South Wales are homeless, and homelessness has increased 37 per cent since 2011, will the Government make homelessness a State emergency? Building on the work of the Minister for Family and Community Services will it also commit to ending homelessness by 2030?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN (WilloughbyPremier) (15:05): I thank the member for Sydney for his question. I acknowledge he has been a vocal spokesperson on this issue. He cares strongly about homelessness, especially given his electorate and the likelihood that many people around the State congregate in Sydney when they seek shelter. I acknowledge his contribution to this debate and thank him for his passion on the issue. It is Homelessness Week and I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Family and Community Services for her efforts on behalf of the Government in addressing this serious and chronic issue. I stress that the figures used by the member for Sydney include people who have a roof over their head, but they might be couch‑surfing, living in a boarding house or staying with friends. Those people may have received temporary emergency accommodation from us, but they do not have long-term secure accommodation. We accept that, but I wanted to stress that not all of them are exposed to the elements.

I agree with the member for Sydney and with the Minister, who does great work on behalf of the Government, that we must be vigilant and keep working to reduce the rate of homelessness. The target that the member for Sydney outlined in his question is accurate. We want to end homelessness by 2030 and we must ensure that we address that as much as possible. The Minister for Family and Community Services has managed to secure $1 billion over the next four years to address this issue. This week I was pleased to receive reports about workers from the Department of Family and Community Services who are proactively riding the train network and approaching people who are exposed to the elements, especially during winter. They are not taking no for an answer and are drilling down to find out why a person is in the circumstances that they are.

It goes without saying that, unfortunately, a high proportion of people who are exposed to the elements and are without shelter have other challenges in their lives such as mental health issues, addiction, a family breakdown or other issues. It is important that we provide them not only with permanent and secure accommodation but also with wraparound services that prevent them from slipping into homelessness again. I am proud of the financial commitment that we have made to this strategy. I commend the Minister for the five‑year strategy that she recently released. It generated a lot of discussion among government ranks because we feel strongly about it. Due credit goes to the Minister for getting the money from the Treasurer, but also for the approach that we have adopted. I am incredibly proud to state in Homelessness Week that we are the only State Government in the nation that has a Social and Affordable Housing Fund. We have dedicated more than $1.1 billion to a fund that will recycle money into building new places to support those who need social housing.

The new communities we are establishing will not only put a roof over somebody's head but will also support the community services that are necessary for that person. We know that homelessness is associated with other vulnerabilities and things that are going on in people's lives. The member for Sydney might be aware of this, but for the benefit of all members, recently the Government issued a social impact investment opportunity to enable community organisations and the private sector to give the Government advice on anything it has overlooked. If there are additional incentives that the Government can provide to reduce the rate of homelessness, we are inviting non‑government, community and private sector organisations that have expertise in this area to provide advice about incentives through the social impact investment opportunity to ensure we are not missing anything. The Government is confident about its strategy, but appreciates it is not the expert on everything: it wants input from other sections of the community.

I sincerely thank the member for Sydney for raising this issue during Homelessness Week. It gives the Government an opportunity to reiterate its commitment to supporting the most vulnerable. As I always say to my colleagues, being a competent Government with a strong budget and economy is only half of the equation. The other half of the equation is giving back to the community and especially supporting the most vulnerable. All of us in this place know, because of the examples we see of people coming through our electorate offices, that nobody is immune from being subjected to homelessness. We do not know what is around the corner. We do not know what circumstances life will bring to any one of us or our loved ones. We have to have that in mind and approach people who are homeless with that empathy and sense of compassion but also the ability, through our strategy and the funds we have, to get them a roof over their heads. I thank the member for his question.