Recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show how the Government’s programs are working to address homelessness and highlight how much progress we have made in five years.
On Census night, there were 142 fewer people homeless in the ACT than in 2011. That is a decline of 8% over a period in which the population of the ACT grew by more than 11%. The national trend in homelessness saw an increase by more than 13%. This means that the ACT bucked the national trend.
The ACT now has the fourth lowest rate of homelessness of all Australian jurisdictions at 40.2 homeless persons per 10,000 head of population.
According to the Report on Government Services data released in January that showed that in 2016-17, the ACT had the strongest results in the area of employment and labour force participation for clients of specialist homelessness services.
After receiving support, 32.1% of all clients were employed or enrolled in education or training and 26.3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients were employed or enrolled in education or training.
The ROGS data also showed that 68% of people who sought government assistance to either remain or gain independent housing were successful through the help of a specialist homelessness service.
How is it that at a time when homelessness is growing in Australia that the ACT is achieving such positive results. Why is the ACT bucking the trends?
The answer is that the focus on a single human services gateway, early intervention, sustained support and ensuring sustainable housing outcomes is working.
The mantra of this approach is “right service, at the right time, for the right duration” and focusses on building the strength and capacity of families and individuals.
In the ACT this central intake model is called OneLink.
OneLink is the central information and access point for human services including homelessness, disability and family support services. OneLink replaced First point and the Child Youth and Family Gateway in 2016 and is operated by Woden Community Services.
Since early 2015, Government and community service providers have been working together closely in the interest of achieving the best outcomes possible.
Under these arrangements, specialist homelessness services provide assistance to people with tenancy issues and can tap into additional support as part of their flexible case management approach.
Additional support can be provided through the Supportive Tenancy Service, which specialises in providing assistance to people whose residential tenure is at risk, including people with mortgages, in private rentals and in public or community housing.
They work to help people in these situations achieve as much self-reliance and independence as possible by helping them to:
- resolve crises
- re-establish family and community links where appropriate, and
- re-establish their capacity to live independently, achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion.
The ACT Specialist Housing Sector works extensively with Canberrans, working with them for up to twice as long as the national average in order that they sustain the changes that deliver better housing outcomes.
All up, the ACT Government spends $20 million a year on a range of programs to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
As a consequence, ACT homelessness services are achieving great outcomes by ensuring that more people are in independent housing at the end of support, have an income to enable them to sustain this housing, and have improved employment or training circumstances. In these areas, we are ahead of most jurisdictions.
But there is another area of the Census data where more work needs to be done – rough sleepers.
The 2016 census data shows that there has been an increase in rough sleepers from 28 in 2011 to 54 in 2016. While the ACT still has the lowest rate of rough sleepers in Australia, this is a substantial increase.
Rough sleeping is a type of homelessness where you are living on the street and sleeping in places that are not designed to be slept in.
Census data indicates that about 3.5% of the ACT’s homeless population sleep rough.
Rough sleepers can face additional challenges in reaching out to services trying to assist them.
They may also be highly vulnerable people with complex mental health and social issues which they are having to grapple with on a daily basis.
Some rough sleepers are not ready to receive support.
The services are continually reaching out to rough sleepers. It is important to do it in a gentle, non-threating way - to let them know that there are services that can help them into long term housing.
In a wealthy city like Canberra it is concerning that we have people sleeping rough on the street.
The Government is making considerable efforts to address rough sleeping in the ACT.
There are many support services available that are designed to address the immediate and critical needs, including crisis accommodation and support for people sleeping rough.
These include the Street to Home Program and Night Patrol, run by St Vincent de Paul, that actively seek out and support people.
Street to Home is particularly important as a service specifically designed to assist rough sleepers into accommodation through persistent and ongoing outreach to rough sleepers.
There are a number of free food services funded by the government, including the Blue Door Drop-in Centre at Ainslie Village, the RoadHouse which is coordinated by the Australian Red Cross at the Griffin Centre in Civic and the Soup Kitchen in Garema Place.
There is the Early Morning Centre, run by Uniting Care in Civic. The Early Morning Centre supports people sleeping rough with breakfast, lockers, computers, showers, medical and vet services and information.
The ACT Government spends around $1 million a year providing critical and immediate support services for those sleeping rough on the street.
In 2017-18 we are doing more in order to respond to the increase in numbers.
The Government has provided an additional $100,000 to the Early Morning Centre for an expansion of its operational hours and scope of services, as well as another $50,000 for business development.
The Government is also looking to identify and address systemic issues in housing and homelessness service provision. We are undertaking a ‘cohort study’ at a cost of $350,000 into the long-term accommodation models and support requirements of people who are chronically homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.
The Government is well-progressed in its plans to establish a second Common Ground facility in the ACT. Common Ground is a social housing model which provides accommodation and additional service support for homeless people.
I’m now asking individual members of the Canberra community to assist. Helping vulnerable members of the community is everyone’s business – it is not something Government can fix alone.
It is important that you treat rough sleepers with dignity and respect.
On a broader front, the Government is working to develop a new ACT Housing Strategy which will include a focus on addressing homelessness.
The Housing and Homelessness Summit, held in October 2017, was a critical step in the development of the strategy and we continue to progress the strategy towards completion in 2018.
The Government is achieving very positive outcomes for Canberra by reducing the prevalence of homelessness. We have worked in close partnership with the community sector and we have made a difference.