(Private Member's Statement, 23 November 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Homelessness is a very dangerous situation to be in. It creates significant risk of violence and intimidation and prevents people from getting the care they need, causing health and mental health to deteriorate. Homelessness makes it more likely that someone will enter the criminal justice system and can make getting and keeping a job near impossible. People do not choose to become homeless. The causes are out of their control and include domestic and family violence, trauma, natural disaster, mental health, addiction, job loss and poverty. It usually involves an element of being down on one's luck and can happen to anyone.

The inner city is seeing a huge and dangerous increase in the number of non-resident people sleeping rough. This cohort includes asylum seekers, temporary visa holders, undocumented people and New Zealand citizens who arrived in Australia after 2001. Their situation is especially dire because their visa status excludes them from very basic government-funded services, leaving them with no access to temporary accommodation, homelessness support, domestic violence support or health care. Even women and children fleeing domestic violence cannot access government-funded refuge accommodation.

Non-resident people experiencing homelessness rely heavily on charitable and philanthropically funded services, but those organisations cannot connect them with any government services, excluding most options to exit homelessness. Furthermore, when a person is in housing crisis, there is no way to resolve the basic challenges to improving their circumstances, like being on the wrong visa or other administrative issues. During the pandemic, State government funding was provided for accommodation and wraparound support for non-resident people sleeping rough to keep them safe from the virus. The approach did not just protect homeless people and the wider community from the spread of COVID-19, it also successfully provided non-resident rough sleepers with pathways out of homelessness.

Access to health, housing, food and crisis services ensured those on the front line were able to help the cohort find solutions to their challenges, including updating visas, providing access to health care, gaining employment and securing more stable accommodation. While they are not eligible for social housing when they are not in a crisis situation, specialist homelessness services were able to explore options, like changing their visa or accessing their funds to get back home. For the first time in New South Wales, people were largely able to get out of homelessness. But these services are no longer funded and rough sleeping by non-residents has surged, particularly in the inner city and, I understand, in Parramatta.

It is estimated that around one-fifth of people sleeping rough in inner Sydney right now are non-residents. Specialist homelessness services report being overwhelmed, with few options to help this very vulnerable group. Frontline workers are especially distressed when their only options for people seeking to escape domestic violence are between staying in a violent situation and rough sleeping. Organisations regularly see non-resident women and trans people leaving domestic violence sleeping rough. A joint request to the Government has come from Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, St Vincent's Health Network, St Vincent de Paul, the Wayside Chapel, Jewish House, the Haymarket Foundation, the Station, House of Welcome, Neami National, the Institute of Global Homelessness, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Asylum Seekers Centre to reinstate funding for crisis accommodation for non-residents. Providing non-residents with crisis accommodation is vital and evidence based. It is the solution for getting this group out of homelessness. It is cost-effective because it also keeps them out of emergency departments and off the streets.

This problem crosses a range of portfolios, including Families and Communities, Youth Justice, Housing, Homelessness, Health, the Prevention of Domestic and Multiculturalism, with additional crossover into Commonwealth jurisdiction through immigration and visa policies. We need to work together to resolve this situation and ensure that there is government support to prevent and resolve homelessness among non-residents. I know from my brief experience living on the street for the 2018 SBS series Filthy Rich and Homeless how impossible it is to improve one's circumstances when sleeping rough. The situation is usually hopeless. I call on the Government to work with specialist homelessness services to find a solution to what is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep and ensure that non-residents can access emergency housing.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!