By Sunny Liu
Homeless advocates believe new assertive homelessness outreach teams in the CBD and suburbs can prevent more rough sleepers from coming to the city.
In January the state government announced it would establish outreach teams to engage with rough sleepers and connect them with services and ongoing support in the CBD, Dandenong, Frankston, Maroondah, Warrnambool, Ballarat, Geelong, Bendigo and Swan Hill.
These areas have been identified as in great need of homeless support services.
Jenny Smith, CEO at homelessness peak body Council to Homeless Persons, said the new plan would reduce the number of rough sleepers coming to the CBD to seek services.
“The assertive outreach teams will target rough sleepers where they were living and will reduce the drift to the city,” she said.
A violent brawl between rough sleepers on Flinders St left two people critically injured in January.
Ms Smith said the CBD could be particularly dangerous for those sleeping rough on the streets.
“People are most vulnerable and most at risk when they sleep on the streets in the CBD as they live their life in public,” she said.
“So having the outreach workers can provide early assistance to people at risk, when they are still home. Rough sleepers come to the CBD when they are further down the track and the outreach team gives them support before they get to that stage.”
Ms Smith also said the strategy could complement the City of Melbourne’s rough sleeping protocol, which allows council workers to remove rough sleepers’ belongings when they exceed a reasonable minimum.
“Ramping up efforts to support rough sleepers is far more productive than punishing rough sleepers by slapping them with fines and confiscating belongings,” she said.
“The initiative can make a difference by reducing the flow of rough sleepers in the CBD and helping the City of Melbourne’s existing homelessness strategy to be more integrated and comprehensive,” Ms Smith said.
The outreach teams comprise mental health professionals, housing workers and nurses who will work with rough sleepers and prevent them from returning to the streets or ending up in prison.
The $19-million outreach team initiative is part of the $45 million Victorian Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan, which also includes funding for supportive housing teams, therapeutic services and 106 new homes.
Ms Smith said housing was the key to addressing homelessness in the state.
“Homelessness is a social problem for us. The solution lies in providing housing and accommodation that can be sustained for at-risk and homeless people,” she said.