Homelessness as an election issue

By Rhonda Dredge

On May 2 the Lord Mayors of the capital cities held a crisis meeting to put homelessness on the political agenda in the lead-up to the federal election, urging the major political parties to appoint a Homelessness Minister to Cabinet.

“Rough sleeping in our city streets is in danger of becoming entrenched,” Sally Capp, Lord Mayor of Melbourne, told the meeting. 

The United Kingdom has a homelessness minister and the lord mayors were urging for one here as well. 

“In inner Melbourne alone, we know there are around 300 people sleeping rough each night – this is just the tip of the homelessness iceberg,” Cr Capp said.

According to the 2016 ABS census data provided to the meeting there are 116,000 homeless people in Australia. Melbourne has registered the second lowest increase of 14 per cent while Sydney has registered the largest – 48 per cent. 

Homelessness is both a federal and local issue with social workers, professional agencies and concerned citizens protective of those sleeping rough in the CBD. Estimates vary up to 400.

The Liberal Party focused its election strategy on first-home buyers, announcing its policy strategically, and that the homelessness portfolio is covered by the Treasurer.

The ALP made an election promise to fund the construction of 250,000 new affordable housing units across Australia in the next 10 years.

Will this policy have a flow-on effect on the CBD? 

The CEO of the Community Housing Industry Association, in Exhibition St, believes it will.  The association has campaigned vigorously on the topic.

Lesley Dredge predicts that 7000 new units will be built in Victoria within the first two-and-a-half years. This is bigger than the Rudd initiative of 2200 units over four years. 

The association is positive about the impact on the population sleeping on the city streets, even though there are 47,000 people on the list in Victoria. 

“The vast majority of CBD sleepers have their names down through the Rough Sleepers Action Plan,” she said. 

Two homeless men in Swanston St told CBD News they were on the housing list. One had been on it for five years and was voting for the ALP and the other, a permanent citizen, for three. 

“Many people gravitate to the city because it’s safer and they’ll be housed.” 

A new youth crisis centre opened in King St last month with 16 new temporary beds, adding to the 160 already available in the CBD. By lunchtime there were people lining up outside the door. 

The architectural firm Fender Katsalidis did the work on Frontyard pro bono. The new renovation has automatic glass doors and a welcoming but small foyer where staff help those on a path to homelessness.

Tony, who sits on the footpath in Bourke St every day, has a garage in the suburbs and he’s not complaining. He said he’d vote for anyone with a policy for mental health.

“I’ve got a place where I stay,” he said. “It’s the communicating with people. I had an incident where I wasn’t coming in. For two days I didn’t speak to anyone.”

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