Each night, tens of thousands of Australians are without a place to call home. Many thousands more are at risk of becoming homeless.
Behind these statistics lies the true cost of homelessness. Homelessness can have profound and long-term impacts on a person’s safety and security, physical and mental health, on their connection to the community, and on their ability to thrive in school or in the workplace.
This inquiry was an opportunity to examine Australian governments’ collective response to the problem of homelessness—to understand what is and is not working and to hear about best-practice policies and programs both in Australia and overseas.
In its interim report, presented in October 2020, the Committee considered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homelessness.
In this final report, the Committee makes 35 recommendations which, taken together, propose a renewed approach to preventing and addressing homelessness in Australia.
The Committee’s report concludes with a significant and overarching recommendation for the establishment of a ten-year national strategy on homelessness. While state and territory governments are primarily responsible for housing and homelessness, a clear and consistent message in evidence given to the Committee was that there is a need for a national approach.
The Committee considers that a national strategy would lead to more cohesive policies, better coordination and more accountability, particularly in relation to the use of Australian Government funding. A national strategy could also recognise and harness the important roles of local governments, community organisations and the private sector in preventing and addressing homelessness.
Most importantly, a national strategy would ensure that all Australian governments have a shared focus on achieving better outcomes for those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In this regard, the Committee identified three main areas for reform.
First, prevention and early intervention represent the most effective and cost‑efficient measures to address homelessness. Acknowledging the value of work done to date through integrated ‘place-based’ approaches, the Committee calls for further work to support, strengthen and integrate prevention and early intervention programs.
Second, the principle of ‘Housing First’ should guide all Australian governments’ responses to homelessness. Put simply, this means that housing should be made available to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness as an immediate priority, and a base from which their other needs can be addressed. The Committee particularly recognises the importance of providing flexible ‘wrap-around’ services as part of the Housing First strategy, to prevent homelessness and associated problems from becoming entrenched.
Third, new approaches are needed to address the shortfall in social and affordable housing. While noting that states and territories are responsible for the provision of social housing, the Committee has identified ways in which the Australian Government can work with state, territory and local governments, as well as community housing providers and other private sector investors, to increase the availability of social and affordable housing for those who need it most.
The report includes a range of other observations and recommendations. The Committee recognises that certain groups are at greater risk of homelessness than others, and that the experience of homelessness can differ from the cities and suburbs to the regional and remote parts of Australia. As such, the Committee recommends the design of a new needs-based funding model for future funding agreements, as well as particular measures to assist groups such as victim-survivors of family, domestic and sexual violence, and Indigenous Australians.
Importantly, the report also makes recommendations to improve data collection and reporting to better inform all Australian governments’ responses to homelessness. This includes a review of how homelessness is defined and how the homeless population is counted through the Census.
The Committee recognises that there is no quick fix to end homelessness in Australia. Nevertheless, the recommendations in this report highlight a range of ways in which Australian governments can work together to reduce the number of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness in this country.
The Committee expresses its appreciation to the many individuals and organisations who shared their views with the Committee and informed the Committee’s inquiry. The Committee especially thanks those who shared their lived experience of homelessness with the Committee.
Mr Andrew Wallace MP