POLITICS

Homelessness Can No Longer Be A Year-To-Year Proposition, Experts Say

'We’re predominantly parked at the bottom of the cliff, catching bodies as they fall over.'

09/12/2016 4:30 PM AEDT | Updated 09/12/2016 5:18 PM AEDT
Mark Williamson

Homelessness agencies have welcomed a federal funding commitment, but said they are tired of having to fight for their survival every year. The federal government on Friday announced it would fund the National Partnership Agreement On Homelessness (NPAH) for another year, allocating $117 million to the fund which will be matched by state and territory governments.

PM Malcolm Turnbull said the announcement would "give certainty" to providers of frontline homelessness services "while state and territory Governments continue to work together on long-term homelessness reforms", but those frontline services say the government's commitment is not good enough.

The money was due to run out in June 2017, just six months away, before the government signed off on a further one-year extension to June 2018. The homelessness sector had run a long-term campaign calling for the funding to be locked in, warning of a "tsunami of homelessness" without certainty.

Catherine Yeomans, CEO of Mission Australia, said the NPAH funding has been allocated on only a short term basis in recent years -- three extensions in the last four years, one of two years and two of one year -- and only announced late in the piece, brewing uncertainty and stress in the sector. Yeomans told The Huffington Post Australia homelessness agencies need long-term certainty because they need to enter into housing purchase or rental agreements, plan long-term programs, and support homeless people who are already in social housing.

"It's uncertainty. We're appreciative but 12 months goes quickly. A year is a short period of time. What we have to do is only extend leases for a 12-month period, our staff only have 12 months certainty, the people we work with only know the services they rely on are only certain for 12 months. There is alarming increases in homelessness, we need long term services," she said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) said 255,657 were helped by specialist homelesness services in 2014-15, an increase of almost 20,000 from 2011-12.

Jenny Smith, chair of peak body Homelessness Australia, said the uncertainty and short-term commitment was harmful to the sector, with the campaign to secure funding taking a toll.

"It's concerning to think with a one year extension, we could be back here this time next year. It's terribly important the government commit to what it said it would do, work with the states and also work with the sector," she told HuffPost Australia.

"We're predominantly parked at the bottom of the cliff, catching bodies as they fall over. We need a strategy at the top of the cliff, tackling housing affordability, early intervention services. We haven't had an investment via the federal government for affordable housing since the GFC."

Smith said the federal government needed to step in and outline a national framework to reduce homelessness, especially in the realm of securing affordable housing.

"The money out there is being incredibly well-used, but what we don't have is a policy for ending homelessness and tackling housing affordability," she said.

Narelle Clay is the CEO of Southern Youth and Family Services, a homelessness and social services provider in NSW's Illawarra region. She too welcomed the federal extension of funding, but said "lurching from year to year" on funding was not helpful.

"We appreciate it, but what we want to see in future is this short term funding stopped and it has to become long term funding," she told HuffPost Australia.

"We can't keep lurching from year to year, lobbying and advocating, getting decisions at the last minute. We know [homelessness programs] are working, but we're a long way from having a final solution."

"You can't build a security plan for the long term if you don't know if your funding will be there. It's not a good way to do business, it's not sensible for long term solutions. It's stressful and uneconomical. I congratulate COAG for that decision, but we've got to build [homeless funding] into the budget."



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