Housing Supply & Homelessness

(Question Without Notice, 16 June 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is directed to the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services. How is the New South Wales Government providing safe and supported housing to people who are homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond?

Response from Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services:

I thank the member for Sydney for his question and I note his passionate advocacy for supporting the most vulnerable. For those who may have seen it, the member for Sydney was a participant in the last season of Filthy Rich and Homeless. The latest season has focused on my region. I commend all those taking part in the program and for shining a spotlight on the importance of caring for the most vulnerable. I acknowledge the efforts and leadership of the City of Sydney, particularly its Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who continues to do a tremendous job and show other councils how it is done when it comes to caring for the most vulnerable.

I thank all members from both sides of the Chamber who have come forward to offer their comments on the Government's response to supporting the vulnerable at this time. The benchmark of any government is how it seeks to support vulnerable people, but no more so than during COVID-19. Since COVID-19 the Government has provided temporary accommodation for more than 1,200 people sleeping rough. To put that into context, rough sleepers are not just homeless people. There are different categories of homelessness: people who couch surf and people who are in dilapidated or unstable accommodation. Rough sleepers are some of the most complex and challenging cases and they require extra support and care.

Through the support offered by our Premier and Treasurer, the Government has provided additional temporary accommodation. In fact, $34 million was announced. That money was broken down into two tranches. One group of funds was going to support products like Rent Choice, Rent Choice Youth and Rent Choice Start Safely. The Attorney General, and the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence would know how important those 350 packages have been to people escaping domestic violence at this time. I know he would join me in welcoming it. The other $14 million has gone towards supporting people into longer term temporary accommodation. Many of the people that we have encountered are those who we may not have seen before or those who have slipped through the cracks over many years. We have been able to provide them that accommodation.

On 8 June, I was able to announce a new $36 million initiative, the Together Home package, which takes this Government's contribution to more than $70 million to support the vulnerable and homeless at this time. It is a record contribution, the largest ever single investment in homelessness and rough sleepers in the State's history. It should be welcomed because it will provide that next step to people who need that bridge to safety and security. So many of us take for granted going home at night and locking the door safely behind us. This is the first time for many people to be able to do that. The project will head lease properties, as we do now to provide accommodation to people, and then work with health and mental health to wrap those services around the people who need them. Homelessness is not just about not having a roof over your head; it is the symptom of other issues such as mental illness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, and financial hardship. The Premier bravely signed up to halving street sleeping by 2025. I am sure that when the Premier signed up to that agreement we never thought we would be in the situation as we are now.

I am pleased that the initiative has been welcomed by Homelessness NSW. I thank Katherine McKernan for her leadership. She has certainly been a champion of the housing first approach, for which I commend her. The initiative has also been welcomed by the Community Housing Industry Association; Shelter NSW; Southern Youth and Family Services, led by the inimitable Narelle Clay, who is known to many members; Wollongong Emergency Family Housing; Homes North; the St George Community Housing [SGCH] group; Link Housing; Wentworth Community Housing; St Vincent de Paul; Mission Australia; St Vincent's Health; and Dignity.

Mark Degotardi, CEO of the Community Housing Industry Association, said:

This package is a strong step forward in nullifying the negative social impacts of COVID-19, we welcome the NSW Government’s investment in tackling these issues.

Scott Langford, the CEO of SGCH, said:

Beyond the first response to the pandemic crisis, now, through strong joint leadership we see the advocacy and persistence of [Minister Gareth Ward], the commitment of Premier [Gladys Berejiklian] to halving homelessness and the Treasurer [Dominic Perrottet] investing in our communities.

He added that the Government must be committed to ensuring the temporary accommodation response through COVID-19 was the first step of a long-term plan to halve the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets. When it comes to homelessness, there just is not a Liberal thing to do, a Labor thing to do or a Nationals thing to do; there is just the right thing to do. I am sure that all members in this House, no matter which side they come from, can be proud that throughout this really challenging and scary time we have been able to extend a hand of friendship, and provide not just supports but also the next steps to people to get their lives back together and give them the safety and security that everyone in the State deserves.