Goal 2: Reducing Homelessness

Homelessness does not necessarily mean living on the streets. There are many different experiences of homelessness including temporarily living with friends or relatives, living in supported accommodation or boarding houses with little or no security.

The government and community services provide a range of accommodation and support needs for people experiencing homelessness but also focus on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. In the ACT around half the people seeking help from homelessness services are not yet homeless but are at risk of losing their home. This provides the government and the homelessness services sector the opportunity to work together to focus on how to prevent people from falling deeper into crisis.

The government has worked closely with the specialist homelessness services sector to redesign the service system to allocate resources to enable services to intervene early to prevent a person from becoming homeless. In 2016-17 this resulted in a significant reduction in the number of people who presented to a specialist homelessness service who were already experiencing homelessness from 52% in 2015-16 to 45% in 2016-17 (a decrease of 306 individuals).2 At a time that homelessness rose nationally by 11%, homelessness in the ACT dropped by 8% between the 2011 and 2016 Census.

This goal focuses on how the government will build on this success and continue to strengthen its response to homelessness through a strong homelessness services sector, more crisis accommodation, improved pathways

out of crisis and improved coordination and information sharing.

Key objectives

Key opportunities

Rate of homeless persons per 10000 of the population in the ACT (ABS Census 2016) The nature of homelessness in Australia is complex and varied and involves an interplay between numerous economic, social, and individual factors, many of which are beyond a single government agency to address. Homelessness is usually a symptom of wider issues that people face including family breakdown, domestic violence, housing affordability, mental health, drugs and alcohol or financial pressures such as a loss of job or income. A safe, secure, affordable house and, often, support services are needed to help individuals and families overcome or deal with these problems.

The ACT Housing Strategy provides a commitment to reducing homelessness and strengthening the capacity of the specialist homelessness services sector to respond.

Under the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement signed by the Chief Minister on 12 June 2018 and in effect on 1 July 2018, the ACT will receive around $131 million in Australian Government funding over five years. This provides much needed certainty for the ACT's social housing and homelessness sectors.

The strategy sets out a plan to address service gaps and strengthen partnerships with the sector to ensure that, collectively, the government and community are well placed to respond to emerging demand in order to maintain a strong and effective homelessness service system in the ACT. It aims to balance helping those already in crisis and the need to provide early intervention and prevention. It also aims to improve pathways out of crisis accommodation for people on low incomes and those with ongoing support needs.

Because clients come from complex and different circumstances, a one-size-fit-all model does not work. We need to design more tailored services that help address individual clients needs - Seniors and Older Womens Services Workshop

Goal 2: Objectives and Actions

Objective 2A: Build strong ACT Government and community sector partnerships to effectively address homelessness in the ACT

The ACT Government has a long history of working with the community sector in the development of policy and programs for those who are most vulnerable. The government recognises that many of the same community organisations that deliver specialist homelessness services also deliver mental health services, drug and alcohol counselling, child youth and family services and domestic and family violence support.

The ACT Housing Strategy acknowledges that these organisations have unique insights into the complex nature of homelessness and the interplay between the individual, social and economic factors which lead to it. The strategy builds on this long-standing commitment to working in partnership with the community to deepen the government's understanding of the individuals and families that experience homelessness to inform new policies and programs.

Actions

  • Work with the community to co-design new policies and programs and bring in the voices of those who have a lived experience of homelessness.
  • Implement a more structured and agile approach to our community engagement, working iteratively to test ideas and be responsive to the input and feedback.

Objective 2B: Intervene early and reduce the intergenerational impacts of homelessness

Substantial evidence shows that early intervention and prevention works.3 In the homelessness context it is more costly to provide crisis accommodation and support than to assist someone to remain in their own home.4 Furthermore, the experience of becoming homeless often exacerbates a person's existing, mental and physical health issues and the impacts of past trauma.

Intervening early to prevent homelessness is particularly important for young people and children. Research shows that a person who experiences homelessness as a child is more likely to become homeless in their adult years.5

In 2016-17, 1315 children and young people under the age of 18 sought assistance from specialist homelessness services. Although the majority presented as part of a family, some young people present alone, often for reasons of family breakdown.

Domestic and family violence is a key driver of homelessness affecting children. In 2016-17, 1137 women sought specialist homelessness assistance because of domestic violence; 588 were already homeless when they sought help.

Actions

  • Prioritise young people, including young mothers, and women and children escaping domestic and family violence to provide assistance early to minimise the intergenerational impacts of experiencing homelessness.
  • Continue to partner with the Coordinator General for Family Safety to strengthen the government's response to women and children experiencing family and domestic violence.

Objective 2C: Address gaps in our services system and respond to new and emerging groups vulnerable to homelessness

Between the 2011 and 2016 Census the ACT saw an increase of 86% in people sleeping rough on Census night - from 29 to 54. Some cycle in and out of crisis accommodation while others may be reluctant to engage with formal services until their situation is at crisis.

Homelessness affects people from different cultures, backgrounds and ages, but some groups are particularly at risk of becoming homelessness. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be over-represented; while only 1.3% of the ACT population, they make up around 17% of those seeking support from homeless services.6

Women experiencing domestic and family violence are also over-represented, as are young people experiencing family and relationship breakdown.

Some groups are emerging as new cohorts at risk of homelessness due to broader social and economic factors; these include older women in financial crisis and refugees and asylum seekers.

Single older women comprise a rapidly growing cohort facing housing insecurity and the risk of homelessness. A constellation of factors has contributed to the emergence of older single women as a group at heightened risk of housing insecurity, including years of unpaid caring, wage inequities, less secure work tenure, insufficient superannuation, relationship breakdown and the rising costs of living - YWCA

Older women on low incomes are often referred to as the hidden homeless. Vulnerable older women are more likely to be found 'staying with friends, living in a car, living under the threat of violence or remaining hidden from public view'.7 Women in Australia retire with approximately 40% less superannuation than men, on average. With interrupted careers and time out to raise children, many older women have little superannuation or life savings. Their precarious financial situation can be exacerbated by relationship and family breakdown.

Many older women find themselves seeking homelessness support for the first time in their lives, while others remain on the financial edge.

Australian women retire with just over half the amount of super as men, and one in three women will retire with no super at all - Senate Inquiry into Women's Economic Security in Retirement

Newly arrived refugees and those seeking asylum in Australia are also emerging as a group growing in their need for homelessness support. The ACT is a proudly multicultural city and over the past 10 years has welcomed over 2000 refugees.

Some asylum seekers and refugees find themselves in need of support from homelessness services. Some need assistance while they resolve their immigration status while others, particularly women, find themselves homeless after a relationship breakdown or fleeing domestic and family violence.

Actions

  • Support culturally appropriate public and community housing accommodation options and support programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Work with the sector to design and implement specific programs targeted at new and emerging groups at risk of homelessness.
  • Work with the sector to investigate and implement a model of support that draws upon the principles of housing first, particularly for those experiencing long-term homelessness.
  • Strengthen the Human Services Gateway (OneLink)to reach out to people and be available at the times when people need help.

Objective 2D: Improve pathways out of homelessness

A consistent theme throughout community consultation was the lack of appropriate, affordable accommodation options to provide real pathways out of homelessness. A lack of affordable housing options means some people are in crisis accommodation because they cannot afford to rent in the private market.

Others may have significant underlying physical and psychosocial issues that prevent them from sustaining a tenancy without significant ongoing support, such as that given in our specialist homelessness services sector. The best outcome for these people will come from some form of permanent supportive accommodation. Support may take the form of intensive onsite support on a daily or weekly basis, or regular but intermittent support to help people maintain vital living skills and connect to the wider human services system when they need to.

Common Ground Gungahlin was a key priority under the Labor and Greens Parliamentary Agreement for the 8th Legislative Assembly (2012). It was opened by Chief Minister Barr, and Ministers Berry and Rattenbury on 3 July 2015.

Common Ground Gungahlin has 40 x 1 bedroom units - 20 social units for chronic homeless clients (25% of income), and 20 affordable rental units (allocated to those paying up to 80% of market rents).

Common Ground is based on a Housing First approach, in that it provides permanent housing without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. On site supportive services are proactively offered to help tenants achieve and maintain housing stability, but tenants are not required to participate in services as a condition of their tenancy.

During 2017-18, of the 20 social tenants at Common Ground who transitioned from chronic homelessness, 10 are engaged in some form of employment, and five are actively participating in tertiary education, with one tenant completing a CIT Certificate II in Business, and another completing a hairdressing internship.

Building on the success of Common Ground Gungahlin, the Government has committed to building a second Common Ground in Dickson.

Actions

Objective 2E: Develop a strong and sustainable homelessness services sector supported to enhance workforce and organisational capability

The local community sector is a vital partner in the delivery of specialist homelessness services, providing essential daily services against the backdrop of changes in economic and policy settings at both the local and national level, including through the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and a desire for consumer-centred models of service, a greater government focus on outcomes-based funding, and broader economic factors which influence demand for services.

The strategy supports the homelessness service sector to build their own organisational governance and workforce capability so they are well placed to respond to emerging challenges. This contributes to priority areas in the Community Services Industry Strategy to the ACT Community Services Workforce Plan 2017-2020. The government recognises that the long-term sustainability of the sector is dependent on a workforce with a strong and proficient skills base, resilience and appropriate professional tools to manage the inherent stresses and risks associated with frontline service delivery.

Actions

Objective 2F: Establish an integrated and coordinated human services system across the ACT Government

For many people experiencing homelessness, housing is only one of many vital services they need to live a life free of crisis. People affected by homelessness have little in common in terms of how they became homeless, what their experience of homelessness is, and the best service delivery response.

Since 2014 the ACT Government has worked with the community sector to design and implement a more integrated system of human services across the ACT that understand these complex interactions. In 2016 the Specialist Homelessness Services Gateway was combined with the Child, Family and Youth Services Gateway to offer a single access point for families seeking a wide range of human services as well as accommodation and support.

The ACT Government has a strong whole of government focus around early intervention, a flexible and responsive human services system that identifies vulnerabilities and responds early and effectively to target resources based on need.

This strategy supports existing Early Support by Design activities and the Justice Reinvestment Strategy by identifying further opportunities for whole-of-government responses to homelessness that recognise the intersection of homelessness with health, justice, mental health, cultural heritage and child, youth and family services.

Actions

2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018) Specialist homelessness services annual report 2016–17. | Return to content.
3. Zaretzky and Flatau (2013) The cost of homelessness and the net benefit of homelessness programs: a national study, AHURI Final Report No. 218. | Return to content.
4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) Housing outcomes for groups vulnerable to homelessness. | Return to content.
5. University of Melbourne (2012) Journey’s Home research report no. 1 : Wave 1 findings. | Return to content.
6. Productivity Commission (2018) Report on Government Services 2018, Part G, Chapter 19. | Return to content.
7. Paterson M (2015) Addressing older women’s homelessness: service and delivery models. | Return to content.

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