Urgent action required, says Coast charity head

HOMELESSNESS IN-DEPTH SPECIAL

By SAM DICKFOS and JANICE JOHANSEN 

The three levels of government must urgently work together to address Australia’s homelessness crisis, the head of a Sunshine Coast homeless help organisation says.

Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre CEO Michael Henning says there has been too much blame shifting between local, state and federal governments and not enough action to seriously address homelessness.

“Much of the buck passing is from one department to another within government, as well as one government source to another government source,” Mr Henning says.

A national problem that is handled at a local level. Photo: Jeremy Higgs, Flickr

There were 116,427 homeless Australians on the 2016 Census night, a 14 per cent increase on the 2011 Census. The number of homeless people over the age of 55 increased 28 per cent between the 2011 and 2016 censuses.

During 2017-18, 897 Sunshine Coast residents presented to homelessness services, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre community worker Mark Ellis says several weeks ago a woman and young girl came to the Centre looking for help.

“They turned up here, because they’d been living in their car,” he says. “The landlord whacked up their rent and they couldn’t afford it. Forty to 47 per cent of the homeless people on the Coast is because of lack of housing.”

The Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre is not a homelessness agency, but provides much needed wellbeing services to the homeless and those going through hard times.

Mr Henning says unemployment, cost of living, domestic violence, family breakdown and the Sunshine Coast’s rental market are all contributing factors to the increase in homelessness on the Coast.

Federal Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien says state governments have the primary responsibility to provide housing to the homeless, but he believes the Sunshine Coast community should pitch in and help.

“Despite us all living in paradise here on the Sunshine Coast, we cannot forget there are people all around us doing it tough,” he says. “Some people sleep rough every single night and it’s incumbent on not just governments, but on all citizens to be conscious of our fellow neighbour and do everything we can to assist.”

The Coalition government provided $1.56 billion to the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) in the recent Federal Budget, but Mr Ellis says governments are providing funding from the top down, which is not addressing issues on the ground.

“It’s about a mind shift and about how we actually use that money,” he says.

Mr Henning says politicians lack a political will to address the issue because they have not experienced being homeless themselves.

“From [the homeless] point of view, they are the unseen and they are the voiceless,” he says. “And from a government point of view, they are of little consequence. Their voices are probably as strong as ours.”

The Queensland Government housing strategy for 2017-2027, has a 10 year housing plan to build 4522 social and affordable homes per year across the state. With an estimated population of over five million in Queensland, it is not as generous as it sounds. Official figures from 2018 show 189,000 remain on the social housing list.

For the Sunshine Coast, the strategy would provide 243 new homes for these people over the next five years.

“We have no shelters on the Coast whatsoever for men.  The closest is Brisbane or Maryborough,” Mr Ellis says.

“Brisbane is always full and Maryborough may have a spot, but then they’ve got to get from here to Maryborough. They can’t just get on the bus, because they’ve got no money – or jump on a train without getting a ticket, because the inspectors may get on … and then they’re arrested. It’s just ludicrous.”

Mr Ellis says he often helps people with housing applications and that the Department of Housing is available at the Centre on a Thursday evening to interview people and place them on the housing list.

A 2017 Productivity Commission report, says Australia’s social housing system is broken and there are people in the community who wait up to 10 years or more to access the financial support and security of social housing.

What are the parties’ policies on homelessness?

Liberal Party: $1.56 billion for the NHHA allocated in the Federal Budget, $60 million for emergency housing for women and children fleeing family violence

Labor Party: Create a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) plan to reduce homelessness, have a Minister for Housing and Homelessness, implement changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax concession to fund 250,000 new affordable rental homes

The Australian Greens: Ten-year funding agreement for homelessness services, $320 million per year for homelessness services, $500 million for specialist homelessness services under the NHHA

Services offered at Maroochy Neighbourhood Centre, 2 Fifth Avenue, Maroochydore

  • Community dinner: Every Tuesday and Thursday 5.00pm – 6.00pm
  • Shower facility: Available Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am
  • Hygiene care packs: Available Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am
  • Clothing Aid: Available Tuesday to Friday from 10.00am
  • Small food hampers: Available Tuesday to Friday from 10.30am

Other services:

  • KEIHS: (appointment only) advocacy and referral model to ensure maintaining and sustaining accommodation status Monday-Friday 30-4.30pm phone 0448413331 for an appointment
  • Sunny Street: Doctor and nurse outreach unit – Tuesday 4.30pm – 6.30pm. Thursday (nurses only) 4.30pm – 6.30pm
  • Homeless Health Outreach Team: Every second Thursday
  • Hairdressing for homeless and marginalised – every six weeks 4.30 -7.00pm (no appointment necessary)
  • Department of Housing Assistance (Rent Connect): every 2nd Thursday 4.30pm – 5.30pm
  • Laundry facility (Orange Sky Laundry): Tuesday and Thursday

 

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