Don’t expect an end of homelessness

The chair of the state’s rough sleeping strategy has cautioned people not to expect an end to rough sleeping on Melbourne’s streets.

Speaking at the Council to Homeless Persons’ Victoria Homelessness Conference at Melbourne Town Hall on September 14, Tony Nicholson said seven objectives would be recommended when he reports to Housing Minister Martin Foley by the end of October.

“Keep in mind that the strategy isn’t about eliminating homelessness or eliminating rough sleeping,” Mr Nicholson said. “It’s about doing everything within our power to reduce the incidence and the impact of rough sleeping.”

He said earlier intervention was needed as well as accurate information.

“We will never get anywhere with this task until such time as we put in place live, interoperable client record management systems across service providers,” he said.

He said current systems used by various providers could be overlaid with co-ordinating technology.

Mr Nicholson is the executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

He said other recommendations to government would include:

  • Greater assertive outreach services in suburban and rural areas;
  • Better integration of services at the local level;
  • More, and better, housing options;
  • More productive use of volunteers;
  • Recognising “the special challenges” of country Victoria, where prevalence is high and services are scant; and
  • Building an evidence base of what works.

Mr Nicholson was appointed in January when the government pledged $10 million over two years to tackle homelessness.

In May, Mr Nicholson released a “situation analysis” of the extent and nature of the problem.

He said the 2016 census figures were not yet available, but it was understood that between 8000 and 9000 people experienced homeless in Victoria each year.

“Importantly, and contrary to what you might gain out of the media coverage of the issue, the majority of people who experience rough sleeping in Victoria do so in the suburbs and country Victoria,” he said.

“So a minority who experience rough sleeping can be found in central Melbourne – the CBD and the fringe suburbs.”

“Over time, people who experience rough sleeping in the suburbs and the country do drift towards the city centre – in part to seek services and in part because of the radial transport systems and in part simply because of the perception that they may be able to discord better if they are in central Melbourne.”

He said 10 per cent of were homeless for more than a year, with 50 per cent experiencing homelessness for four weeks.

He said most did not have major health issues or any disability.

“Half are on Newstart or Youth Allowance payments from Centrelink,” he said. “They are considered by Centrelink to be active in the labour market and ready for work.”

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