New homelessness deal on the table

By Meg Hill

The City of Melbourne is close to securing a deal from the state government as part of a new approach to homelessness, according to comments made by the Lord Mayor. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp told a Residents 3000 meeting on September 5 that the state government had agreed to help fund a new program initiated to acquire fit-for-purpose buildings for rough sleepers. 

“I went to see the premier and I told him it wasn’t strictly our responsibility but if we don’t do something about it, it just won’t happen, and asked if he would agree to the ongoing funding for these facilities and he had agreed to that,” the Lord Mayor said.

The Lord Mayor said that local councils had few “levers to pull” when it came to homelessness and the City of Melbourne had been lobbying the federal and state governments to act.

But she said the issue of rough sleeping in the CBD was “something that speaks to our culture and society and we decided we needed to do something more active about it”.

The state government will join the City of Melbourne and other municipal councils in inner Melbourne, service providers such as St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, and the private sector to repurpose a number of buildings.

In a statement later issued to CBD News, the Lord Mayor said: “The City of Melbourne is bringing together stakeholders, including state government, the corporate sector, philanthropists, service providers and local governments, to talk about how we can best work together to take urgent action to help people who are sleeping on our streets.”

“Together, we’re looking at how we can share our knowledge and our assets, such as buildings, to help people who are sleeping rough get the support they need to find a pathway out of homelessness.”

“To do this we need a coordinated approach that addresses the complex drivers of homelessness, while providing services and support for people in crisis.”

 A report last year suggested an extra 400 crisis accommodation beds were needed every night in the City of Melbourne and immediate for those at their most vulnerable. 

The Lord Mayor said the accommodation would be provided with “wraparound” 

Wraparound services target the connected and often causal issues related to rough sleeping – like mental health, domestic violence and unemployment.

“40 per cent present with financial hardship, the next 30 per cent which is the fastest growing are people experiencing domestic violence, and then we go into issues of mental health and substance abuse,” the Lord Mayor said.

“It’s a vicious cycle in terms of how it pushes people lower and lower in our society.”

The City of Melbourne hopes to launch the project later this year.

“By this time next year our aim is to be well advanced in delivering those 400 extra beds.”

But the Lord Mayor said the issue was much broader than crisis housing and had been created by four decades of government investing less in public housing. 

The Lord Mayor and the other capital city Lord Mayors have this year advocated for the federal government to address the issue.

“Victoria is now at the lowest availability of public housing per capita than any other state in Australia and we’re the fastest growing state,” she said.

She said government needed to “reset the agenda so that housing is considered as economic infrastructure that has value as much as new trains, new roads, new hospitals and other economic and social infrastructure”.

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