• A homeless person in a sleeping bag. (Getty Images/Paul Bradbury)Source: Getty Images/Paul Bradbury
A $35 million investment in social housing has been welcomed by Aboriginal Housing Victoria, but they've warned that it's not a solution to the Aboriginal homelessness crisis in the state.
Keira Jenkins

7 Aug 2020 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 7 Aug 2020 - 4:54 PM

Twenty-one Victorian Aboriginal organisations will receive a share of $35 million to upgrade social housing in the state.

Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV) CEO Darren Smith welcomed the funding, which was first announced in May, saying it will benefit Aboriginal families living in social housing.

"The works will improve the overall condition of the properties that are ageing and deteriorating and make important improvements to amenity of the properties," he said.

"But also provide opportunities to upgrade energy efficiencies of the properties which will reduce the energy costs for energies in the properties."

Mr Smith said much more investment will be needed to address what he calls a "crisis" of Aboriginal homelessness in the state.

"The Aboriginal works package isn't a solution to the Aboriginal homelessness crisis in Victoria," he said.

"For that we're going to need new investment in Aboriginal housing and we remain hopeful that as we  work through the pandemic and as it recedes, government will invest in social housing as part of further economic recovery."

'The solution is providing housing'

Mr Smith said 17 per cent of the Aboriginal community has had contact with homelessness services over the past year, making it the highest rate in the country.

He said AHV has set out a roadmap to addressing this homelessness crisis, in their 'Mana-na woorn-tyeen maar-takoort' Victorian Aboriginal Housing and Homelessness framework.

"It sets out a long-term framework for improving the safety net of social housing and homelessness services so that they are working for Aboriginal people," said Mr Smith.

"But it also provides for an important shift so that the Aboriginal community move from reliance on that safety net to independence in housing.

"It really encourages and is looking for opportunities for Aboriginal community and individual ownership of housing."

Ultimately though, Mr Smith said addressing homelessness will come down to government investment.

"Without a doubt, the solution to addressing the Aboriginal homelessness crisis is providing housing for Aboriginal people," he said.

"The issue that we have in Victoria is we haven't seen any increase in supply of social housing over the last 10 years for the Aboriginal community and for the broader community as well.

"In order to address the Aboriginal homelessness crisis we need improve access to homelessness services for Aboriginal people and make sure we've got an integrated way of moving people from homelessness into housing."

'COVID-19 will spread'

While Mr Smith said the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown new challenges for keeping homeless populations safe during a health crisis, he said the solutions don't change all that much.

He said it's all about providing safe accommodation and support services.

"There is a huge risk that if we don't get people off the streets and into housing, some sort of temporary accommodation at least, that rates of infection are going to spread right through the homeless community," he said.

"As Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the homeless community, it will spread into the Aboriginal community as well."

The Victorian government has been providing hotel and emergency accommodation for homeless people during pandemic.

Mr Smith said the state government has made a significant investment to keeping the homeless community safe, and has provided accommodation for large numbers of people.

He said these measures are expected to continue until April.

Mr Smith said there has been a number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in emergency housing, and it's important to make sure measures are in place to prevent its spread.

"Accommodation is fundamental to any response to infection control," he said.

"I think it's a necessary part of a response. How effective it is I think depends on the level of support and the ability to isolate people who have been infected and move them, particularly in group accommodation settings so that you can more effectively address transmission."

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