COVID-19 gave these homeless people housing, here’s how they could keep it

Source: AAP

The Federal Government is being called on to help tackle Australia’s rough sleeping crisis, which could deliver savings of around $26 million.

A seven point policy plan to end rough sleeping in Australia would see savings to the federal government of $26 million - according to the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH).

The plan, from the AAEH, comes after around 5000 of Australia’s rough sleepers were sheltered in temporary accommodation across Australia due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As coronavirus restrictions ease, there were grave concerns that many of these people would be tipped back onto the streets.

But some Australian states have already committed a fundings boost to the social housing sector to get these people, and others, into more permanent accommodation. 

AAEH chief executive officer, David Pearson, told Insight that while the funding from states was fantastic to see, the Federal Government needs to play a larger role in ending the problem.

“Some of those things that the state governments are announcing are consistent with that plan, so they’re doing exactly what we asked for, but they’re not necessarily all doing it, and there’s definitely a role for the commonwealth government to play in this, there’s only so much state governments can do.”

Five high profile Australians swap their privileged lives to discover what life is like for the nation’s 116,000 homeless people. New season starts 9 June on SBS and On Demand.
Five high profile Australians swap their privileged lives to discover what life is like for the nation’s 116,000 homeless people. New season starts 9 June on SBS and On Demand.

States stepping up

The NSW government has said they will spend $36 million on getting rough sleepers into permanent homes.

Of the $36 million, around half of that will be spent buying homes while the rest will be used to provide services such as mental health and drug and alcohol treatment.

In Victoria a $500 million package was announced to build 168 new units and upgrade 23,000 more.

In WA $319 million of a $444 million package, will go towards building, buying, renovating and maintaining social housing across the state, including in remote Indigneous communities.

While in South Australia the government has asked for expressions of interest from organisations who can deliver reductions in homelessness across South Australia.

Minister for Human Services, Michelle Lensink said the State Government was seeking tenders for the first $6 million of a new $20 million Homelessness Prevention Fund.

Queensland has also stated that their emergency, coronavirus accommodation was just the first step in finding people more permanent housing.

What the federal government can do

Pearson said that while they welcome the funding announcements from some states, more could be done if the Federal Government stepped in to help.

“We need the Commonwealth government and the scale that they can bring to help deal with this challenge,” he said.

“The strange thing about rough sleeping homelessness is that it actually costs us as taxpayers more to leave the problem unaddressed than it does if we actually provide them permanent housing.

“Because it costs a lot in emergency accommodation rooms, which we’re paying a lot for, it costs a lot in terms of people going in and out of health emergency departments, health services, high rates of incarceration, policing resources - so when you add up all those costs it’s cheaper just to house people.”

The plan from the AAEH is broken down into three stages: crisis response, recovery response and long term response.

In the recovery stage of the policy plan the AAEH estimates that an investment from the government of 49.4 million in the first year would enable 2,500 people temporarily sheltered to be provided with an immediate home in the form of a private rental property with support.

Over time, they predict that the investment would generate savings to the government in the health and justice areas of around $26 million.

For the long term response, the AAEH have stated that more supportive housing needs to be built, while the new jobseeker payments needs to be kept in place into our income support system is fixed, “so that nobody is forced to live below the poverty line and driven into homelessness.”

“The Australian government has led the world in responding to this crisis, we should do the same thing in how we recover from this crisis,” Pearson said.

“That requires state and commonwealth governments to work together to come up with a national plan to end rough sleeping and they can realise those savings if they make those investments now and this paper shows what all of those investments should look like.”

Insight contacted the Federal Minister for Families and Social Services for comment but did not get a response by the time this article was published.