Ms Kate Gumley
Chair, Homelessness Working Group
Department of Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
PO Box 7576
Canberra Business Centre
Dear Ms Gumley
We write to make a submission to the National Quality Framework for Services to People Experiencing Homelessness consultation.
Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre is a community-based non-profit organisation providing free legal services to disadvantaged residents of the Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega local government areas of the New South Wales South Coast. We are a 'generalist' Community Legal Centre, as distinct from the 'specialist' Legal Centres which act in one specific field of law. The Legal Centre has been in operation for over ten years, and has assisted many thousands of people in that time with legal advice, legal casework and representation and delivery of community legal education. We work in communities with high levels of unemployment as well as large Indigenous populations with 20% of our clients currently being Indigenous. We regularly engage in law reform activities, often in conjunction with, or as part of the peak body Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW).
The majority of our clients initially make contact with our service through our free phone advice lines which operate 2 mornings a week. We offer face to face appointments to people with more complex legal matters and when deemed appropriate we represent clients in legal proceedings.
We also make contact with many clients through our outreach legal clinics operating across the South Coast to Aboriginal and other isolated communities including: Waminda Aboriginal Women's Health Service Nowra, Jerrinja Aboriginal Community, Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community, Ulladulla, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Bega, Eden and Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Community.
From our experience working with people experiencing homelessness in our community we have observed:
- If homelessness has been caused by loss of tenancy (with or without a CTTT order) then legal assistance is very much needed to do something about it (or to appeal CTTT decision). Sometimes legal intervention can lead to return of accommodation (often not an immediate result but can be longer term result).
- Homeless person's legal problems can vary across the whole spectrum of legal issues and are not just restricted to obvious tenancy or Centrelink issues. In our experience, homelessness services predominantly tend to focus on the major issues facing homeless people such as assisting them to access health services (including mental health units), or assisting them to find accommodation, or access Centrelink payments. While these are priority issues, there are often legal issues that need to be addressed at the same time. The rights of homeless people are often abused either while they are homeless or before they become homeless (being a contributing factor to why they became homeless in the first place). For example, employers may have unfairly dismissed them, landlords may have terminated their lease illegally, they may have been unfairly charged with some crime, and/or some company may be demanding repayment of a debt that may, in fact, not be owed by the homeless person. These abuses of people's rights may cause a chain reaction of events that leads to homelessness or prolongs homelessness. To assist the person rise out of homelessness, that person's rights need to be addressed as soon as possible. This is particularly the case for young people, who are less aware of their rights and are more vulnerable to abuse.
We would therefore like to recommend that the National Quality Framework encourage homelessness services/support organisations to form partnerships with their local Community Legal Centre or Legal Aid office if they employ a specialist Homelessness Solicitor. This partnership would involve providing advice to clients on their particular legal matter(s) as well as the provision of Community Legal Education to staff to assist with identifying legal issues impacting on their client's homelessness.
This partnership we believe will ensure legal issues are identified on entry to their services and clients supported to access free legal assistance to address these.
Acting Principal Solicitor
Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre Inc.