10 March 2016
(Question, 9 March 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
My question is directed to the Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Social Housing. Given the recent City of Sydney street count identified the highest number of rough sleepers, with 890 people without a place to sleep and 98 per cent of emergency housing full, what will the Government do to urgently expand crisis and long-term accommodation?
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: I thank the member for Sydney for this substantive policy question that every member in this House should care about. It is certainly in stark contrast to the smear campaign currently being undertaken by the Opposition.
In answer to the question, taxpayers, through the New South Wales Government, are spending $182 million on homelessness services. It is a challenge. Approximately $26 million is being spent in the inner city, which is being distributed amongst 12 services that are working amazingly well with the Government. The City of Sydney has been, and continues to be, remarkable in its efforts working with the State Government. We are both working with Missionbeat, Neami and a range of other services. It is appropriate to acknowledge that yesterday Neami celebrated the fact that it has managed to place 300 people in permanent—not temporary—accommodation. That is an incredible feat and it deserves our congratulations.
It should also be recognised that that is only part of the task. Link2home is another service. Until about two years ago there was no dedicated telephone service for New South Wales. In the past 12 months about 17,500 people have been placed in temporary accommodation as a result of that phone line. The Government is committed to working with our partners. It is challenge. In 2010, when the street count of rough sleepers was 888, the Sydney population was half a million less than it is today. As the member for Sydney observed correctly, the count is now 890. So with half a million more people in Sydney, on this count there were two more rough sleepers. It is fair to say that the number of rough sleepers varies—it fluctuates with the season, weather and the time of the year. The Government is very committed to trying to work with its partners to reduce that number.
It is probably a little unrealistic to think we will get the number down dramatically on the basis that over the next 20 years it is expected that the population will increase by about 1.25 million people. The rate sits pretty steadily at about 0.4 per cent. That is a problem in cities across the Western World. I must say to the member for Sydney that whilst we can work, and are working, very hard, I think keeping the number at around the current figure is probably—unfortunately—not a bad outcome. Having said that, we should all aim to achieve far better. That is certainly the aim of this Government. I acknowledge the workers in Family and Community Services [FACS], particularly those who deal with housing. They have responded to this Government's request for innovation. They have responded magnificently to our request to be more energetic about how they outreach. I am sure the member knows that just in the past 12 months, for the first time ever, housing as a subset of the Department of Family and Community Services has established what we call "pop-up housing offices".
Yes, we have been out to Parramatta, Tom Uren Place in Woolloomooloo, Wentworth Park and a number of other places. I have been to each of them and the enthusiasm of the staff from FACS is incredible. I thank the Minister for Health and draw to her attention the fact that St Vincent's Hospital is doing an amazing outreach job, particularly nurse Erin—I do not know her surname—who is in charge of the unit, and Sophie at Woolloomooloo. People on the streets often have very complex needs. I am happy for the member for Sydney to seek an extension of time so that I can tell him more.
I am grateful that the member for Sydney has such passion for this area.
The member for Sydney has a passion and a serious interest in this issue. In the past few weeks at a park I met a couple who personified all the great challenges that the Government and the community must address. I met a 30-year-old man with a 23-year-old girlfriend, who was suffering from a very severe bout of bronchitis and asthma. She did not have the money to purchase proper medicines and so did not have an asthma puffer. On the other hand, he was pretty healthy but suffered mental health issues. He told me that he had alcohol and drug dependency issues. He had a Naltrexone implant to address his drug issues, which he had got in Western Australia where he came from. I would like to look at that as part of a New South Wales response to this problem.
As I spoke to them, it struck me profoundly that this young man, who had been out of jail for three years, had all the classic problems that required a whole-of-community, not just a government, response. I think that is a challenge for us all. That young man is so typical of the people whom I meet regularly on the street when I join all the fantastic workers from FACS and our partner agencies—St Vincent's Health, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and all the other agencies that really care. I think we can make a difference but it will take an ongoing, concerted effort. I promise the member for Sydney that, working with the City of Sydney and with our colleagues in this place, I think we can make a difference. We will continue to try to make that difference.