Question on Homelessness

(Question Without Notice, 04 June 2019, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is directed to the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services. Given the Government's commitment to halve homelessness by 2025, how will the Minister work with homelessness services and government agencies to achieve this and ensure that people who are homeless get access to safe and supported housing?

Answer from Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services: 
Is it not great to get a question on policy from those opposite? In fact, it seems that the crossbench is having to carry a very difficult burden when it comes to leadership on issues from those opposite. On the issue of leadership, as members of the House know, I have a visual impairment and I am classified as legally blind. But that has nothing to do with the fact that I cannot see any leadership on the other side of the Chamber. I congratulate the member for Sydney on his re-election and the increased majority that he secured. I particularly commend the member for Sydney for his advocacy on the issue of homelessness. I know that he is an important and strong voice for his electorate, which is why the Premier included him on the Premier's Council on Homelessness. I have no doubt that he will make a welcome contribution to the council. This Government takes homelessness very seriously, as I know all members of the House do.

I was pleased to join with the member for Sydney to meet Nicole Yade from Lou’s Place, a unique community-based refuge for women in crisis from experiencing homelessness, feeling isolated or being in need of support. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with the member for Sydney and see the great work being undertaken at Lou's Place, and particularly to meet the volunteers and hear about their great work in providing assistance to women in need. We also visited the Wayside Chapel, where we met John Owen and discussed how the chapel provides unconditional love, care and support for all people who are on the streets of Kings Cross. I was impressed by the services offered at the Wayside Chapel. Last week I spoke at the Act to End Street Sleeping Symposium, where I affirmed this Government’s commitment to improving the lives of everyone across the State, especially those most vulnerable. I appreciated the contribution of the member for Sydney at that event.

On 13 February the New South Wales Government joined the global initiative to end street sleeping. New South Wales is the first state in the world to set a target for the whole of the State, not just an individual city. It is an ambitious target, but one that I know the Government is ready and willing to meet. The agreement was signed between the New South Wales Government, the City of Sydney, the Institute of Global Homelessness, St Vincent de Paul, St Vincent's Health, Mission Australia, the Salvation Army, Wesley Mission, Neami National and Yfoundations. The agreement commits signatories to reduce rough sleeping in the City of Sydney by 25 per cent by 2020, reduce rough sleeping in the City of Sydney and New South Wales by 50 per cent by 2025, and work towards zero rough sleeping in the City of Sydney and the whole of New South Wales.

Early planning for meeting these targets has us focusing on three critical areas: turning off the tap through initiatives to reduce demand pressures and prevent people from experiencing rough sleeping; effective, holistic supports through initiatives to improve the responses people receive when experiencing rough sleeping; and clear pathways to housing through initiatives to provide pathways to long-term housing for people experiencing rough sleeping, linked to appropriate supports. I know that all members are committed to these goals. We are well on our way to tackling homelessness, specifically youth homelessness. I am proud that in the 2018-19 budget this Government committed $1 billion just to homelessness services over the next four years. This money will build on the remarkable results that we are already achieving in supporting vulnerable people and rough sleepers into permanent accommodation. And we are making a real difference.

I am advised that 23,654 households were assisted with temporary accommodation in 2017-18; that is 10,000 more households than in 2012-13. I am advised that 71,628 clients received specialist homelessness services in 2017-18, an increase of more than 19,000 clients since 2012-13. And I am informed by FACS that 5,531 young people who presented alone in unstable housing received specialist homelessness services in 2017‑18, an increase of 37 per cent compared with 2012-13. I advise the House that 19,914 Aboriginal clients received specialist homelessness services in 2017-18, which is 79 per cent more Aboriginal clients receiving specialist homelessness services compared with 2012-13.

I take this opportunity to commend former Minister Goward for her hard work and dedication to achieving these results. But I know she would want me to say that as promising as these results are there is still much more to be done. I am pleased the Government is investing $61 million of new funding over four years to implement its Homelessness Strategy. That funding for 2018-19 includes $20 million for homelessness social impact investments. I was pleased to join the member for Sydney, together with Cameron French, to launch Home and Healthy at St Vincent's Hospital's Sydney Tierney House. [Extension of time.]

That organisation is about delivering outcomes for people who enter homelessness and who come into the health system, and to make sure that they get the support they need to not re-enter homelessness again at that key point when they are receiving treatment. The new funding also includes: $10 .6 million for sustaining tenancies support, $9.1 million for additional transitional accommodation, $6.2 million to expand Staying Home Leaving Violence programs at five new sites, $4.7 million for universal risk screening and supports to respond early to young people at risk, and $10.7 million for assertive outreach and health services to proactively support rough sleepers. The assertive outreach program is a highly effective strategy that is combating homelessness and engaging rough sleepers proactively.

I was delighted to join with the member for Sydney to meet hardworking FACS staff, particularly Holly and Daniel, on the streets of Sydney and to see their work firsthand to find permanent accommodation for people sleeping rough. I also did this with the member for Parramatta and my good friend Minister for Skills Mr Geoff Lee, when we met with Rocko and Heather in Parramatta and witnessed their challenging, yet brilliant, proactive work to build relations with those in need. One of the services I met with in Parramatta was Parramatta Mission where Paul Moussa and his great mission team were providing meals to support people in need. I was delighted with their work.

But it is sometimes the homelessness you cannot see in the city that is most difficult to address, and this includes homelessness in our regions. I was delighted to note the pilot for assertive outreach in our regions is continuing in the Tweed electorate, and I thank the member for Tweed for his advocacy on this issue. I do not want to see people sleeping rough on our streets during inclement weather. I note we have colder conditions and that is why I have spoken to FACS about additional outreach work, as requested by the member for Sydney, to make sure that we address some of the temporary accommodation questions that he raised. I also want to make sure that we can find places for people when they need them, particularly at this chilly and cold time of the year. We want to make sure that we provide that support to those who need it most. I remind the House that the St Vincent's Winter Sleepout is on 30 June. I encourage all members to take part in it.