The homeless sector is pleading for more cash and more certainty in their funding, with warnings of a "tsunami" of 80,000 people being thrown into homelessness unless an expiring funding agreement is quickly renewed.
Federal and state housing ministers are meeting in Sydney on Friday to plan action on housing. The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which funds 180 specialist homelessness services around the country, will be high on the agenda. The federal government kicks in $115 million annually to the agreement, which is matched dollar for dollar by state and territory governments, contributing around a third of the budget of the homelessness sector. The agreement is due to expire in July 2017, however, and homelessness agencies say there has not a commitment to extend the funding beyond that point, meaning agencies would not be able to continue offering the same services.
The Council to Homeless Persons says over 100,000 Australians are homeless on any given night, between people couch-surfing, living in dangerous or unsuitable accommodation, people fleeing family violence situations, and rough sleepers. Homelessness Australia chair, Jenny Smith, said services already turn away more than 300 people a day. If the NPAH is not extended, it is feared that number will rise to around 450.
"Without this national agreement we will see more people sleeping in our streets, in refuges, in the back of cars and in rooming houses as they're turned away from help," she said.
More than 250,000 people sought assistance from homeless services last year; two-fifths were under 25, and one in three were experiencing family violence. While there is still eight months until the NPAH expires, the homelessness sector says the uncertainty around funding makes it impossible to plan initiatives or employ staff.
"If you're running a service, you're thinking about how you employ people beyond June next year. Without that certainty early, it's hard to retain a skilled workforce. It is nuanced work, working with women and young people in violent situations," Moo Baulch, CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"We've had 12 month and two year extensions, but it's not good enough."
While state and territory housing ministers hold their annual summit in Sydney, a parallel summit is being held at the same city hotel with a congregation of homelessness agency CEOs and welfare experts. The meeting of 30 sector heads is calling for a minimum five-year commitment to extending the NPAH.
"If we lose a third of the funding base, a tsunami of homelessness will be unleashed in our community," Smith said at a press conference in Sydney.
"If this agreement isn't extended, 80,000 people will be thrown back into homelessness."
Labor senator Doug Cameron, the shadow minister for hosing and homelessness, said that the ministers meeting needed to come to some agreement on the NPAH. He called the meeting "a test of the will" of governments to address housing affordability and homelessness.
"If the meeting makes no decisions that will lead directly to an increase in the supply of affordable and social housing, the meeting will have failed. If the meeting fails to recognise that homeless people need immediate help through the protection and extension of funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the meeting will have failed," Cameron said in a statement.
"There is a principle at stake for housing ministers tomorrow - homeless people need homes. If the meeting fails to put forward measures that facilitate and drive reform of financing models for the community housing sector, it will have failed."