At its first two day meeting, the Council discussed a number of significant policy issues critical to the implementation of the White Paper on Homelessness. In particular, Council examined the phenomenon of rough sleeping, homelessness legislation, access to education and training, communication about the reform agenda and opportunities for engagement with the Australian Government’s Homelessness Delivery Review Board. Several of these discussions were informed by guest speakers from government, academia and the legal sector.
Acknowledging that the headline goal to provide supported accommodation to all rough sleepers seeking it by 2020 is one to which all involved in implementation will be held accountable, Council agreed that this issue should be a standing item for all future meetings.
The Council agreed that further work needs to be undertaken to develop a greater depth of knowledge of the extent and geographic concentration of rough sleepers, and of the mobility of people that is necessary for them to gain access to services, if appropriately informed policy and practice responses are to be made. Members noted that the review of the methodology for counting the homeless currently being undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics should provide further clarity on the issue of rough sleepers, including a better understanding of the count for Indigenous Australians .
The Council commented on the need to identify effective service responses that address the diversity of rough sleeping experiences and to gauge whether current policy and service responses are sufficiently comprehensive to ensure that the rough sleeper headline goal will be met. More research in this area is needed and Council will continue to make its assessment based on current available information and data.
Discussion of this item was also informed by briefing from Centrelink and the organisation’s services to support rough sleepers, in particular its 90 Community Engagement Officers providing outreach services to engage people with complex needs who are reluctant to seek assistance. Information on the full gamut of services available to assist people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can be downloaded from Centrelink’s website.
Employment, Education and Training
The Secretary and Associate Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations attended the meeting, which provided the opportunity for Council to review employment matters discussed at a previous Council meeting. To assist its independent monitoring of White Paper implementation, the Council is seeking further information from the Department on how people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness are faring under the Job Services Australia program and how Job Services Australia providers are using Centrelink’s ‘vulnerability to homelessness’ flag as a tool to support these people.
At this meeting the Department briefed the Council on the National Education Agreement and related Partnerships. The Council is concerned to see that these partnerships are used as opportunities to press mainstream providers of education and training to take up their responsibilities to assist people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. The Council is seeking specific information from the Department on how students at risk are faring in the education system, in particular students who have been expelled and the support they are receiving to transition them back to their school or alternative education providers.
Legislation to Support the White Paper Strategy
The Council considered the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth’s Report, Housing the Homeless. The Council commented on the need to take into account how any homelessness legislation would work with the National Quality Framework which is currently under consultation. Members were unanimous in supporting the notion that the right to adequate housing should be an aspiration captured in legislation. The Council also supported adopting the definition of homelessness outlined in the White Paper on Homelessness, as well as retaining the strengths of the Supported Accommodation Act 1994.
Australian Government Homeless Delivery Review Board
The Council discussed its links with the newly established Australian Government Homelessness Delivery Review Board, comprising high level representatives from stakeholder Commonwealth departments with a role in implementing the reforms across the health, employment and education, immigration, veterans’ affairs and human services portfolios. Subsequent to the Council meeting, the Chair and Deputy Chair met with the Board to discuss ways for better joining up policy and program agendas, and undertook to engage with the Board on a regular basis.
Maintaining Momentum and Privileging Innovation
The Council discussed the need for effective communication so that the goodwill and momentum for change being demonstrated from all parts of the Australian community will be further encouraged and maintained. It noted that the White paper contains bold targets to be realised over a long‑term ten year period, and that homelessness may worsen before it improves. At this stage of the reform agenda, Council acknowledged the importance of highlighting early progress and showcasing practical examples of initiatives rolling out across the country, as well as facilitating the sharing of knowledge about effective models and in privileging innovation.
The next meeting of the Council is scheduled for 19 May 2010 in Adelaide which will also provide an opportunity for members to visit the CommonGround facility. This facility, which provides an integrated service response by bringing in workers from different services such as mental health, housing and drug and alcohol rather than referring people to different agencies, is proving to be a successful model for addressing homelessness issues.