A bold new plan could end homelessness in Australia within a decade, providing a roadmap for the government to overhaul housing amid a rental “crisis”.
The not-for-profit Homelessness Australia today launched a major report calling on the Commonwealth to take meaningful action to address the “dire” situation facing hundreds of thousands of people.
As well as ending homelessness, the plan outlines a pathway to halving instances of rental stress within five years – and for good by 2032.
“Housing is at the forefront of Australia’s cost-of-living crisis, which is pushing more and more people into homelessness,” Homelessness Australia chair Jenny Smith said.
“Rents are skyrocketing while we have a social housing shortfall of 433,000 properties.”
In the past year alone, the median rent at a national level has surged by 13.2%, and in some hard-hit areas has skyrocketed by up to 25%, Ms Smith said.
As rents rapidly rise alongside growing cost of living pressures, the need to do more to avoid people falling into insecure or unstable accommodation is “more vital than ever”.
“While the situation is dire, the challenge is not insurmountable,” she said.
“We can end homelessness for women, children, young people, and Indigenous Australians, and dramatically reduce the number of people returning to homelessness services.”
A plan has been released outlining ways to end homelessness in Australia in a decade. Picture: Getty
A big but worthwhile investment
The plan calls on the government to build 25,000 social housing dwellings each year, and another 25,000 properties for low-income earners.
The report also recommends a housing guarantee for women and children fleeing family violence, homes and support for people who have been homeless multiple times, and greater support for young people who can’t live at home.
It also calls for an increase of at least $70 per day to JobSeeker, as well as a 50% boost to the Commonwealth Rental Assistance payment.
While that would require a significant initial investment, the benefits would ultimately flow – homelessness costs an estimated $670 million every year, Ms Smith said.
In addition, increases to income support have been shown to be effective.
In June 2020, when welfare was lifted as part of Covid support measures, homelessness numbers dropped and rent stress fell, the report found.
Among the recommendations is a call to build 50,000 new dwellings a year. Picture: Getty
‘We ended homelessness two years ago’
The Covid pandemic provided a test case for governments to roll out approaches that experts and advocates have been championing for years, David Kelly from RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research said.
“We essentially ended homelessness in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown,” Dr Kelly said.
“Stay-at-home orders demanded a well-resourced homelessness response and unconditional access to shelter.
“The homelessness sector was afforded a rare opportunity to test their own recommendations to improve the system, to offer better accommodation, access increased government funding, support longer tenancies and offer wrap-around support.”
And in Melbourne, where the pandemic response was one of the most wide-reaching in the world, it worked, he said.
Many forms of homelessness in the city were eradicated.
Experts blame a “woeful” underinvestment in affordable and social housing for much of the homelessness crisis. Picture: Getty
But it was a temporary relief, with a return to the status quo and “a woeful lack of resourcing and no unconditional right to housing”, he said.
“We have structural barriers such as housing unaffordability and no public housing supply, meaning that even if there were more money in the homelessness sector, there are no exit points into long-term secure housing.”
More than 109,000 Australians requested long-term housing support via homeless services in the 2020/21 financial year, Ms Smith said.
But due to chronic lack of available dwellings across the country, just 3.4% of those people in need were helped. In addition, staff and resource shortages saw tens of thousands of people turned away.
One-in-seven people presenting to homeless services are young people – some 41,652 in 2020/21, the report revealed.
First Nations Australians are also 9.4 times more likely to be without a home than other Australians. In 2020-21, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians represented 3% of the Australian population, but 28% of specialist homelessness service users.
“We urge the Albanese government to use Homelessness Australia’s report as its basis when following through on its commitment to a national housing and homelessness plan,” Ms Smith said.
Rent stress will push more people into homelessness, advocates warn. Picture: Getty
Minister for Housing and Minister for Homelessness Julie Collins said the government will develop a National Housing and Homelessness Plan.
The Federal Government is also committed to working with responsible state and territory ministers to boost social and affordable housing and homelessness services.
“Our reforms aim to ensure every Australian has access to safe and affordable housing to improve social and economic outcomes for all Australians, including those at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness,” Ms Collins said.