Safe, affordable housing a basic human right

Published on Mon 17 October 2016 1:14pm

Without safe and affordable housing, everything else is contingent and at risk—health, education, employment, social inclusion and participation, the opportunity to breathe out, to think about the future, to play, to love and be loved. That is why safe and affordable housing is a basic human right.

Mr Wilson (1:14pm) — I thank the member for Newcastle for bringing this motion and the other speakers, because affordable housing and homelessness do need attention at every level. It is an effort that must be led nationally and that is not happening at the moment. Of course it is especially relevant in Anti-Poverty Week.

The starkest measures of deprivation relate to the absence of safe and secure housing. The inability to live and sleep warmly and in peace, to have a place where you can prepare food and eat properly, a foundation from which people can work and children can go off to school in the morning and have a bed each to themselves at night. Without safe and affordable housing, everything else is contingent and at risk—health, education, employment, social inclusion and participation, the opportunity to breathe out, to think about the future, to play, to love and be loved. That is why safe and affordable housing is a basic human right.

Not long after the election, I was invited to help prepare and serve breakfast at St Patrick’s Community Support Centre on Queen Victoria Street in Fremantle. I have been there many times. It is always a privilege. It is always a reminder of the acute and complex disadvantage that exists even in a prosperous country like ours. But it is also a reminder that there are many good people like Gary, Stella, Victor and Vanya, who put their hearts into helping people in desperate need.

It was a dark wet morning. It had been a bad night, a rough night. What struck me was seeing people come in through the door and walk with dignity and restrained urgency to grab a towel from the counter and go through to have a hot shower before coming in for breakfast. That shower and the prospect of food and a cup of tea or coffee in a clean and dry room must occupy your mind intensely for the last few hours of a bad night.

This year, during registry week, a survey of homeless people was conducted in Fremantle between 28 June and 1 July coordinated by St Pat’s with funding from the City of Fremantle and the Department for Child Protection and Family Support. Registry week is an initiative of Ruah Community Services. It seeks to identify the most vulnerable homeless people in order to prioritise them for housing and wraparound assistance as part of the 50 Lives 50 Homes Project. This targeted campaign tackles complex needs with the Housing First approach.

The survey effort in Fremantle involved 44 volunteers across seven street teams, and I want to acknowledge all the people involved in that effort for their good work. Around 68 homeless people participated in the survey—62 men and six women—of whom 49 were sleeping rough. A further 15 rough sleepers declined to participate. Of those surveyed, 65 were older than 25 years of age and three were younger than 24. One in five were suffering from liver disease. In the older cohort, 32 per cent reported a history of foster care or institutional care as a child; 34 per cent were Indigenous; and a third of the older cohort had been victims of violence or, of the younger cohort, had been victims of violence.

In the face of that bleak picture of disadvantage, I can tell you what is making a difference in Fremantle. St Patrick’s Community Support Centre does incredible work. The Sisters’ Place, which I mentioned last week, provides a safe house for women to sleep at night, some of whom are escaping domestic violence. The Fremantle Foundation, a community based charity, led by the inspirational Dylan Smith, has channelled substantial donations into projects like the commercial kitchen that was installed at 100 Hampton Road, a supportive social housing centre.

But what is missing is the leadership, program guidance, funding support and clarity from the Turnbull government. As the member for Newcastle rightly points out: there should be a dedicated minister in this space. We are still waiting to hear about the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness even though the delay itself will be doing harm to the many organisations that are trying to plan for the future, give certainty to their staff and manage budgets that are tight enough as it is.

It beggars belief that from July next year community legal centres will face substantial funding cuts. When the work of CLCs often goes directly to keeping people in stable housing and we have to remember that, with every dollar you cut from community legal services and financial assistance services, you push $2 or $3 of additional costs directly onto another part of the social safety net.

The evidence shows that homelessness is not decreasing, which itself is not that surprising when you consider that poverty and inequality are growing. However, nothing will change unless the government is prepared to change or unless we change the government.

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