Push for specialist rough sleeper service in CBD

By David Schout

The City of Melbourne has proposed a new “specialist” support service for rough sleepers in the CBD.

The site would act as both a housing referral and health support service to assist those sleeping rough within the Hoddle Grid, and would be open “up to 24/7”.

The recommendation was part of the council’s submission to the Victorian Government’s 10-year strategy for social and affordable housing in Victoria, expected to be released later this year.

The council said the development would cost between $1.5 and $5 million (depending on the site selected) and has proposed the government make a “capital contribution”.

The proposed service centre would also manage the City of Melbourne’s “by name list”, a shared database of the names and information of current and recent rough sleepers in the municipality.

Rough sleepers are those living on the streets, sleeping in parks, or squatting in derelict buildings for temporary shelter, and are seen as some of the most vulnerable people in society.

A significant percentage of Victoria’s rough sleepers stay within the CBD.

Many were offered emergency hotel accommodation at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne. 

According to the council, around 720 people remain in emergency accommodation, but it understands the funding program will end in June. 

“As the end of the program approaches, more people have returned to rough sleeping. It is essential that a long-term solution is found to address the needs of these people,” the council submission states. 

There are existing rough sleeper support services within the CBD, however it is understood this council-government initiative — if approved — would be more extensive and open for longer hours. 

Push for council recognition

In November 2020, the state government announced a historic $5.3 billion “Big Housing Build” to construct more than 12,000 new social and affordable homes throughout metro and regional Victoria.

The commitment was the state (and nation’s) biggest ever investment in the space and, according to homelessness groups, was well overdue.

At the time, the government announced that a new agency, Homes Victoria, would deliver the record housing growth and manage existing public housing.

The CEO of the new agency is former City of Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer. 

In its submission to Homes Victoria’s 10-year strategy, the council made no secret of its desire to be made a key part of the government’s housing blitz. 

Citing its central city location, access to jobs and existing support services and community infrastructure, the council’s first recommendation was to be brought closely into the fold. 

“We seek recognition as a priority delivery partner,” it said. 

It proposed that a new entity, “Homes Melbourne”, was set up to work in partnership with Homes Victoria.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp underlined the importance of collaboration in the coming years. 

“This submission reflects our ability to create a game-changing, city-shaping, but most importantly life-transforming set of policies and actions in the city of Melbourne for Melburnians — that’s actually why we’re here,” she said.

“We know housing and homelessness is absolutely a top priority for this council, for our city and for our people, and this is a moment in time.”

“This submission really leverages the confluence of a long-suffered housing crisis. What we see now is a coalition of the willing, the able and now well-resourced group of organisations, led by the state government and its decision to properly fund a significant delivery of much-needed affordable and social housing.”

Cr Rohan Leppert said the council’s intervention into the policy space was “incredibly important” and would be “one of the most things we’re going to do” in this term.

“What we have to do is continue to ensure the central city remains a destination of choice for everyone, especially for those on low incomes and not the place where normal standards of living can be waived,” he said. 

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