A big problem requires even bigger solutions

By Rob Pradolin – Housing All Australians

Welcome to the eighth of our 12-part series which will attempt to explore the role that housing can and should play within Australian society and why it is important to our economy that we house all Australians, rich or poor. 

This series intends to draw on a range of perspectives centred around housing and homelessness. We will hear a range of views from business, the not-for-profit sector and hopefully government, as to why they believe housing is an important social and economic building block for Australia’s future prosperity.  

This month we have asked MP Fiona Patten, Leader of the Reason Party, Member for Northern Metropolitan, chair of the Legal and Social Issues Committee and chair of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Homelessness, to share her thoughts around why the objective around housing all Australians, and in particular some of the key recommendations of the Parliamentary Inquiry, and why solving homelessness should be considered an economic imperative for Australia …

In the first week of March, I had the great privilege of tabling the report of the Inquiry into Homelessness by the Victorian Parliaments Legal and Social Issues Committee, on which I also serve as chair. 

Unsurprisingly the final document is a weighty one, given the groaning weight of the issue on our community. Homelessness is seen as the deepest expression of social exclusion in our society, a growing and seemingly intractable problem. But we cannot, and we must not, ever give up on our attempts at ending it. 

We began the inquiry before the devastating 2019/2020 bushfires in Victoria and prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Homelessness was already a challenge for so many in Victoria, and these events exacerbated these difficulties for both those experiencing homelessness and those providing homelessness support. Measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the CBD of Melbourne, saw many people previously sleeping rough placed in emergency accommodation, with plans for this to transition into long-term housing. 

Those who live within the city area, like me, were heartened to see that something slightly good had come from the pandemic lockdowns. It showed that with sufficient will on the part of the Victorian Government, it is possible to end homelessness for many people experiencing it. Whether that will remain the case is yet to be seen, but surely through this experience, we can see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for so many and we can help get them there. 

The Victorian Government’s landmark Big Housing Build, which will see 9300 new social housing dwellings built, about a 10 per cent increase in Victoria’s social housing stock, was announced towards the end of our Inquiry. Welcomed yes, but despite the unprecedented size of the program, this will actually still not ensure that Victoria will meet the national average of social housing as a percentage of total dwellings, at 4.5 per cent. In order to increase long-term housing options, the Government needs to look at, among other measures, implementing mandatory inclusionary zoning in all new major housing developments across the state. 

Another crucial part of our approach to homelessness should be to intervene early in order to prevent homelessness before it occurs. Whenever I have looked in depth at disadvantage in our society it has been evident that this can get to the very cause of disadvantage and turn people’s lives around. As well as being a social issue, this is also an economic issue as the long-term cost and implications to society of not preventing homelessness will be larger than the investment to migrate that cost.

This means identifying those at risk of homelessness and stepping in to provide support before they reach a crisis point. It also means a focus on education. There are many skilled and passionate people in the homelessness sector who have the capacity to do this crucial work and who should be supported to do so. Government should prioritise implementing diverse, forward-thinking early intervention strategies. 

Often there is a tragic transition from institutional settings into homelessness including health, mental health, care and custodial settings. Too often, people at risk of homelessness are discharged or released into the community without sufficient planning or support to find and keep accommodation. Without a home, these individuals may soon end up back in hospital or in the justice system. For those leaving incarceration, being released into homelessness inhibits their chances at successful re-integration into the community. 

Currently in Victoria, we have a homelessness sector that is overwhelmed with the need to respond to people in crisis. 

I have urged the Government to implement the recommendations made in the Homelessness Inquiry report. We can develop a more adaptable and flexible system of support so that the sector can focus more on early intervention rather than crisis responses. 

I hope you found the above perspective by Fiona interesting and insightful. While what was said may not align with our view of the world, we all need to listen and digest what is said by others in order to find common ground. This is why we are focusing on the fact that the provision of shelter is a fundamental human need (not human right) and without that need being met, we have unintended social and economic consequences that will span generations. 

As I said in my first article, doing nothing is NOT AN OPTION! We need to act and we need to act now. All of us need to be part of the solution so please feel free to write to me with your thoughts: [email protected]

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