Homelessness taskforce needed to address inner city rough sleeping

The City of Sydney is calling for a multi-agency taskforce to tackle homelessness in the inner city after its latest street count, conducted in the early hours of Tuesday morning, found 433 people sleeping rough.

The number is down from the 486 people found sleeping rough during the summer count in February last year, but up on the 394 people counted in last August’s winter street count.

Twenty-five City staff and 182 volunteers traversed the city from 1am to 3am on Tuesday morning to record the number of people sleeping rough. They were joined by 16 advisors who have personally experienced homelessness.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said much more needs to be done to support the city’s homeless, calling for a multi-agency taskforce and funding for a new ‘Common Ground-style’ housing development in Redfern.

“The number of people sleeping rough across our city highlights the need for multiple agencies across all levels of government to work together to provide safe and secure shelter for all – one of the most fundamental human needs,” the Lord Mayor said.

“You can’t solve homelessness without tackling housing supply. Without a diverse mix of housing, people sleeping rough are at risk of becoming entrenched in homelessness.

“There is a real need for another Common Ground – we have found a site at our former Marion Street Depot in Redfern and asked the NSW Government to fund this project as soon as possible.”

This year, the City used a new methodology to provide a more accurate account of people staying in crisis and temporary accommodation. This meant the street count also recorded the number of people without a fixed address in beds at St Vincent’s and Sydney hospitals and volunteer-run services.

In addition to the 433 people found sleeping rough, there were 489 people in crisis and temporary accommodation beds, and 26 people without a fixed address in hospital beds. State-funded crisis and temporary accommodation beds were found to be at 91 per cent capacity. Nearly 11 per cent of beds surveyed at St Vincent’s Hospital were occupied by people without a fixed address.

In a submission to the NSW Government late last year to help shape the state homelessness strategy, the City called on the NSW Government to establish a taskforce comprising senior members of relevant government departments, including Family and Community Services (FACS), Health, Police, Corrections, Veterans Affairs, Treasury and Planning, and non-government agencies, to tackle homelessness. The City recommended taking a place-based approach to funding and decision making, to ensure local needs are prioritised.

“We’ve seen the success of collaboration at the grass roots level in Sydney with over 130 people being supported into housing last year,” the Lord Mayor said.

“With the right leadership, we could improve the system, stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, and help those who are homeless access safe and supported housing.”

NSW Minister for Social Housing, Pru Goward, said: “I welcomed the opportunity to take part in the street count this week. The NSW Government is investing a record $188 million this financial year in homelessness services, and addressing this complex issue is a priority for me as the new Social Housing Minister.

“It is critical that we respond to issues of housing affordability and access to social housing. Over the next 10 years, the NSW Government will deliver 23,000 new and replacement social housing dwellings as part of the Future Directions program.”

Katherine McKernan, CEO of Homelessness NSW, said urgent action was required to tackle homelessness.

“Inner city homelessness in Sydney will continue to remain at unacceptable levels unless the NSW Government invests in the social housing system and appropriately resources specialist homelessness services to meet the current demand,” Ms McKernan said.

“People can wait between two and 10 years for a social housing property, and the private rental market is simply unaffordable for those on income support. Research from last year has shown that at least 100,000 social and affordable homes are needed over the next 20 years to address the current crisis.

“What we need is the allocation of long term housing with support (the Housing First model) to meet current demand, and the establishment of a whole of government inner city rough sleeper taskforce, similar to those being established in London, to address the housing, health and support needs of rough sleepers. The taskforce could also devise ways to help prevent and address the increase of inner city homelessness.”

Although homelessness and the provision of social housing is the responsibility of state governments, the City invests over $2.2 million every year to help people experiencing homelessness.

Over the past three years, the City has provided $1.4 million in funding to FACS to provide specialist homelessness services to prevent homelessness and help rough sleepers access safe and sustainable accommodation.

In 2015/16, these specialist homelessness services, funded by the City of Sydney, helped more than 320 people access housing with support and prevented more than 450 people from becoming homeless.

The City of Sydney is the only council in Australia with a dedicated homelessness team. The unit works seven days a week to reduce homelessness and its impacts in the city.

The City uses every mechanism available to develop new affordable housing. This includes implementing affordable housing levies in areas permitted by the NSW Government, amending planning controls and negotiating voluntary planning agreements, transferring land to community housing providers and investing in affordable housing projects.

The proposed new ‘Common Ground-style’ development in Redfern on the site of the former Marion Street depot will deliver 112 affordable housing units and 46 supported places for people who are homeless, subject to the Future Living Consortium being awarded funding under the NSW Government’s Social and Affordable Housing fund.

Sydneysiders are encouraged to support people sleeping rough by donating their time and resources towards established charities and service providers committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness.

“Rather than giving food or money directly to people sleeping rough, we encourage you to advocate for greater social housing, and to give your time and money to one of the many established charities and service providers already working hard to help the most vulnerable in our community,” the Lord Mayor said.

For more information on how to support rough sleepers visit cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/community/community-support/homelessness/volunteer-and-goods-donation-directory
For media inquiries or images, contact City of Sydney Media Team Leader Keeley Irvin.
Phone 0448 005 718 or email kirvin@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au

For interviews with Lord Mayor Clover Moore, contact Paul Mackay.
Phone 0432 182 647 or email pmackay@cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au