Could this Australian city end homelessness?


More than 30 organisations have joined together to end homelessness in Adelaide by 2020.

It’s a cold autumn night in Adelaide’s CBD, and dozens of volunteers have spread out across the city.

They’re checking in parks, under bridges and around abandoned buildings for signs of people sleeping rough.

Renee Jones, one of the volunteers, says the volunteers are collecting details about the city’s street homeless in order to help connect them with housing.

“A lot of people are really eager to talk to us. Obviously they know that we can help them,” she tells SBS News.

“And I think it’s a really good opportunity for volunteers like me to show some compassion.”

Homeless help volunteers
Volunteers approach a homeless person's bed in Adelaide's CBD.
SBS News

Data collection is the next phase in Adelaide’s 'Zero Project', a collaborative effort involving more than 30 local organisations.

Reverend Peter Sandeman, the scheme's co-chair, says the goal is to end what he calls “functional homelessness”.

“Functional zero homelessness is when the number of places to accommodate homeless people is equal to or greater than the number of homeless people,” he says.

“So it means we can accommodate everybody who needs housing. When we achieve that, we will have achieved functional zero.”

The search, conducted over two nights and one morning, finds 143 people sleeping rough on the streets of Adelaide.

Of the respondents, 22 per cent were female and 28 per cent identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Adelaide's total number of street homeless is tiny compared to more than 8,200 people nationally, but it is still more than aid agencies expected.

Nobody wants to sleep rough

- Reverend Peter Sandeman

Reverend Sandeman says the data will be used to help find appropriate housing that considers the needs of each individual.

“Nobody wants to sleep rough,” he says.

“What we need to do is to make sure that the services that are available really meet their needs, so rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, we have to tailor the approaches for each and every person.”

Appropriate assistance

The Zero Project is based on a US model that has shown promising results for homeless veterans in cities such as New Orleans.

Adelaide’s parklands are sometimes home to Indigenous people visiting from remote communities and Mr Sandeman says the project will also look at providing temporary shelter for this group.

“It’s a population that moves to Adelaide each year, it’s a known phenomenon,” he says.

“What we haven’t been able to do successfully in the past is have an appropriate place for those people to stay. So we’ll be looking at that solution as well, as part of the overall solution.”

Jason Warrior from the Western Adelaide Aboriginal Specific Homeless says such an approach should be culturally appropriate.    

“There are elders within those family groups that could be consulted, and they could be the voice for the people in the Parklands,” he says.

“I’m sure that they would be able to do that if they were provided with an opportunity to speak for themselves.”

One of the biggest challenges for the project will be ensuring there’s enough shelter to meet demand.

“Every city in Australia has a housing supply issue,” says Reverand Sandeman.

“What we have now is the definitive size of the homeless population, so now we can begin to work on placing those people, but also ensuring that we have sufficient housing supply, and the services required to make sure those tenancies are sustainable.”

The Zero Project will first focus on the city centre, but if successful could be rolled out to other areas.  

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