Homelessness

(Private Members' Statement, 19 September 2019, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I speak about the need for greater support for those people who have been homeless for some time and continue to have complex health and welfare needs when they are allocated temporary accommodation or social housing. I welcome news that outreach services like the Department of Communities and Justice Homelessness Outreach Support Team, or DCJ HOST, are successfully housing more people who have been sleeping rough, as seen in data from the August 2019 City of Sydney Street Count which found fewer people sleeping rough than previous years. I commend the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services for these positive outcomes and for taking part in the Street Count and Outreach events personally.

The latest Street Count found nearly 600 people in crisis, emergency or temporary accommodation in the inner city with services at almost 100 per cent occupancy. This shows we need more permanent, low-cost accommodation for people to move on to if we want to reduce rough sleeping over the long term. There is strong evidence for Housing First approaches that connect people who are homeless with permanent housing swiftly with appropriate tailored services and supports. Studies show these approaches are cost effective and create stronger outcomes, reducing demand and costs for hospitals, emergency services and prisons.

Furthermore, many of those newly housed people who have complex needs require practical support to learn about making a home, being a tenant and being a good neighbour. Years of sleeping rough and their illnesses has left them without the skills or capacity to do basic but important tasks like cook meals, pay bills, shop, clean and wash clothes. My experience on the SBS programFilthy, Rich and Homeless showed me you cannot even think about these things when you are on the street because your focus must be on finding food, drink, a toilet and a safe place to sleep.

An increasing number of constituents are reporting new neighbours in social housing or boarding houses who have serious mental health, substance use and trauma conditions that impact on their capacity to live independently. I hear regularly of new residents who cannot prevent their homes being taken over by others, who struggle with active mental illness, or face serious isolation, having lost their social networks on the street. Neighbours are reporting violence, threatening and antisocial behaviour. Distressed neighbours, worried about their family's safety and their new neighbour's wellbeing, are repeatedly calling upon police, DCJ housing or councils, or occasionally indeed my office, and the limited services available to respond to crisis, but there seems to be little ongoing help. Sadly, most support is only available when there is a crisis and it then falls away, leaving people too early, before they have the stability, skills and capacity to live independently. These tenants face high risk of eviction or abandoning their tenancy when things get too hard and it may seem easier to return to the street. The result is a repeated cycle of street, prison or hospital.

We should provide more enduring health and welfare support for people with serious and chronic conditions aimed at building their capacity to live independently, gradually reducing support over time. There is substantial research and evidence consistently showing both cost savings created through supportive housing and its effectiveness in ending homelessness for those with the most complex needs and significant challenges. I understand that the DCJ HOST team organises household goods and caseworker support for those who need it for six months, and this is a great start for these new tenants to get back on their feet. However, some people will need ongoing support over a much longer period of time, or may need supported housing permanently.

The Camperdown Project, which provides a safe environment with onsite support for people with persistent and serious health and welfare needs, has proven a great success. Tenants with chronic complex needs are maintaining their tenancies and learning to live and function in their new living situation. We need more housing that adopts this model with ongoing caseworker support to prevent the crises that put people with complex needs back in strife and on the street. I ask the Government to commit these extra resources to make the goal of reducing rough sleeping achievable and break the homelessness cycle for those with complex needs.