Homelessness is one of the most extreme manifestations of people living
in housing stress. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of people recorded as
homeless and the number living in other marginal housing increased. The causes
that underpin homelessness are many, varied and complex. Thus, while the lack
of available suitable low-cost housing contributes to people living in these
circumstances, a multitude of social, health and economic issues also contribute
to homelessness and to people living in substandard accommodation.
In this chapter, the committee looks at homelessness: what is meant by
being homeless; the nature and magnitude of the problem; and what is being done
to help people out of homelessness and to remain housed.
Definition of homelessness
The Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) definition of homelessness is
informed by the notion of 'home'lessness as distinct from rooflessness. Homelessness
may include a lack of a sense of security, stability, privacy, safety, and the
ability to control living space.
Noting the ABS distinction between 'home'lessness and rooflessness, the types
of homeless accommodation may take the form of improvised dwellings, tents or
sleeping out, supported accommodation for the homeless, staying temporarily
with other households, boarding houses or other temporary lodgings and severely
overcrowded dwellings. The ABS defines a person as homeless if they do not have
suitable accommodation alternatives and their current living arrangement:
is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
has no tenure, or if their initial tenure is short and not extendable;
does not allow them to have control of, and access to, space for
The National Housing Supply Council (NHSC) defined a person as homeless
if he or she did not have access to adequate housing that was safe and secure.
People who are homeless fall into three broad groups; that is, those who are:
sleeping rough (living on the streets);
living in temporary accommodation, such as crisis accommodation
or with friends or relatives; or
staying in boarding houses or caravan parks with no secure lease
and no private facilities.
Statistics on homelessness
A number of witnesses referred to the increase in homelessness. The Department
of Social Services informed the committee that although the overall rate of
homelessness in Australia (as a proportion of the overall population) was
relatively low, there were still approximately 105,000 Australians who met the
ABS definition of homeless.
The key homelessness estimates from the 2011 Census show that:
there were 105,237 people who were classified as being homeless
on Census night (up from 89,728 in 2006);
the homeless rate was 49 persons for every 10,000 persons, up 8
per cent from the 45 persons in 2006 but down on the 51 persons in 2001;
the homelessness rate rose by 20 per cent or more in New South
Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, with the largest fall in the Northern
Territory down 8 per cent;
most of the increase in homelessness between 2006 and 2011 was
reflected in people living in severely crowded dwellings, up from 31,531 in
2006 to 41,390 in 2011;
the number of people spending Census night in supported
accommodation for the homeless in 2011 was 21,258, up from 17,329 in 2006;
there were 17,721 homeless people in boarding houses on Census
night in 2011, up from 15,460 in 2006;
the number of homeless people in improvised dwellings, tents or
sleeping out in 2011 was 6,813, down from 7,247 in 2006;
about three quarters of the increase in the homelessness estimate
was accounted for by people who were born overseas;
there was little change in the total number of Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Australians who were homeless (up 3 per cent to 26,744
60 per cent of homeless people in 2011 were aged under 35 years,
and 22 per cent of the increase in homelessness was in the 25 to 34
years age group (up 22 per cent to 19,311 homeless people in 2011); and
the male homelessness rate fell slightly to 56 males per 10,000
males, while the rate rose slightly for females to 42 per 10,000 females.
The census also produced statistics on people who were not classified as
being homeless on Census night but were living in some form of marginal housing
and may have been at risk of homelessness. It showed that the number of people
living in improvised dwellings fell sharply, down 42 per cent to 4,504 people
in 2011; the number of people marginally housed in caravan parks was little
changed (at 12,963 people in 2011); while the number of people living
in crowded dwellings requiring three extra bedrooms jumped 41 per cent to
60,875 in 2011.
The statistics show a changing composition of the homeless population
with fewer rough sleepers (declined from 8 per cent to 6 per cent of all
homeless people from 2006 to 2011) but more people in supported accommodation
or boarding houses. It should be noted, however that much of the increase in the
numbers of homeless people recorded was related to the inclusion of a new
category of people who were residing in overcrowded dwellings.
The committee notes that the South West Australia Homeless People queried
the ABS' definitions of homelessness. It stated that 'if those living in motor
vehicles come under the category of 'sleeping rough', as it appeared they did
not fit into other categories, then this suggested that there were only 959
homeless people 'sleeping rough' in WA. The South West Australia Homeless
People suggested that, 'given what we know of motor vehicles used to house the
homeless, this figure is grossly underestimated'. Consequently, it argued that
there needed to be a better way of categorising 'sleeping rough' or expand its
parameters to capture all concerned.
Also, Dr Petersen referred to a general recognition in published work of
women's homelessness being hidden or invisible because women were more likely
to stay with family or friends on a couch or in a garage or something similar.
So, in her view, it was very difficult to appreciate fully women's homelessness
from current statistics.
Social housing—supply side
The 2009 Henry Review was of the view that the focus on people with particular
needs and the broader role of social housing in the current Australian housing
market meant that:
...some supply side measures are also a critical element of a
comprehensive social housing system. Projected population growth will require
that supply of social housing keeps pace to ensure that homelessness is
People experiencing homelessness receive priority allocation into social
housing and are identified as one of the groups in 'greatest need'. In 2012–13,
social housing provided a pathway out of homelessness for 17,581 households and
represented 57 per cent of all newly allocated public rental housing. In
2011–12, 54 per cent of priority households that were newly allocated to
public rental housing and state owned and managed Indigenous housing (SOMIH)
were previously homeless and a further 36 per cent were at risk of homelessness.
While social housing may provide the opportunity for homeless people to access
a house, the high number who accessed newly allocated public rental dwellings
underlines the heavy demand for such housing and its role in providing housing
for the most disadvantaged groups.
Mr Patrick Flynn, Mission Australia, informed the committee of the
evaluations of the Specialist Homelessness Services (previously Supported
Accommodation Assistance Program), which had shown repeatedly that:
...the lack of social and affordable housing is a problem both
because it creates a risk of more people being homeless and because it prevents
an exit from homelessness. Yet today the percentage of social housing is at a
historic low—less than five per cent of stock—and falling.
Dr Clark, Shelter SA, noted that during 2012–13 there were approximately
20,000 people who used specialist homelessness services in South Australia,
indicating that the close similarity in numbers with the reduction in public
housing was no coincidence.
In her view, the only way to reduce or eliminate homelessness as much as
possible in any country was to provide social and affordable housing. Dr Clark pointed
to the simple fact that supply could not meet the demand.
Rooming and boarding houses
The committee has referred to higher income people crowding out lower
income earners from the private market. This process has a cascading effect
which affects the homeless. Mr Wilson, Salvation Army, spoke of the
difficulties he had in finding emergency accommodation for people in crisis.
Even places such as caravan parks no longer offer temporary relief. Mr Wilson
told the committee:
In the process of attempting to find temporary accommodation
for people in our area [around Rockingham, WA], I have called many of the
caravan parks. The common answer is, 'We have no places available.' I think it
is mostly because they have become long-term solutions for people. The caravan
parks in our area are now places where people live. The places that do have
vacancies can be between $600 and $1,000 a week, which is unsustainable. It is
just incredible to compare what you can rent with what you can get at a caravan
park. It just shows there is a lack of housing around.
In its submission, Shelter WA referred to park residents and the
precarious and insecure housing that they experience.
The National Foundation for Australian Women noted that many older people
receiving rental assistance live in private boarding houses.
The Maribyrnong City Council drew attention to the fact that rooming
houses had become the de facto form of affordable housing in its area and were
often accessed by people on low income such as women experiencing domestic
violence, students, refugees and people with disability.
It referred to the existence of unregistered or illegal rooming houses which
were not compliant with the Victorian health and building regulations. The
Council argued that the provision of genuine affordable housing that was safe
and secure was required to stop the proliferation of rooming houses throughout
Shelter SA noted that the State Parliament had recently amended the Residential
Tenancies Act 1995 to address a range of issues faced by tenants accommodated
in rooming or boarding houses, who were some of the most vulnerable people in
the community. In its opinion, this legislative change provided a range of protections,
including access to a tribunal on issues such as: challenging unreasonable house
rules; right of entry and notice provisions; notice provisions for renovations
or sale; abandonment of room and protection of any goods or personal effects
Lived experiences of homeless people
A number of witnesses were concerned about the rise in homelessness and,
in this regard, the committee has quoted a range of figures to show that
homelessness is a reality for some Australians, young and old.
These statistics, however, fail to convey the lived experiences of homeless
people, whose voices are often ignored or simply not heard.
The committee was privileged to have a number of people from a group of
homeless people who live in their motor vehicles around the area of
approximately 45 km bounded by Rockingham Beach and Kwinana Beach,
southwest of the Perth CBD. Mr Jonathan Shapiera, the author of the submission
on behalf of the South West Australia Homeless People, had recently experienced
an extended period of homelessness.
He spoke of the enormous difficulties facing those living in cars, stating
bluntly that being homeless was a 'dangerous way to live':
Being on the street becomes like [a] shell; you protect
yourself as best as possible.
A fellow homeless person, Mervan, explained further:
All we want is a place where we can go at night time.
Somewhere with showers and where we can cook a meal and have a laugh and a
joke. But we do not have that. You have to have eyes in the back of your head
you never know who is going to sneak up and rob you or do damage to your car.
You are living on the edge the whole time. It is very hard.
Another member of the group, Mr Farmer, told the committee that homeless
people were not all drug addicts, drunkards or losers—'a lot of them are
genuine people who have just come on very tough times and they have nowhere to
As Bevan said, they were 'just down on their luck'. They cannot afford housing
and the waiting list for accommodation was 'a mile long'. Mr Shapiera explained
that the hardest thing when you become homeless was the total lack of services,
whether you are sleeping in a car or sleeping anywhere. He referred to being on
the bottom rung of a ladder and the 'huge gap' needed to be bridged just to
enable people to climb up 'that ladder to even being recognised as being part
of the community':
It is such a despair to be at the bottom of the rung and
having that gap to get anywhere up the ladder to be respected. It is so hard.
Having no fixed address can pose a significant problem for homeless people
seeking government assistance as Mr Shapiera described:
I bit the bullet, filled out the application form and I
submitted it at Kwinana at the Department of Housing there. No address, and the
lady at the counter said, can you put your address down? I said, no I cannot
because I am homeless. 'Oh, I am sorry, we cannot accept your application.' I
said, 'Excuse me, I'm homeless. I don't have an address.' 'No we can't accept
it because you need an address.' She said, 'Could you put down a friend's
address? Can you put down any address?' I said, 'No, I'm homeless. I don't have
an address. I can put down the registration of my car, but I don't have an
Fortunately for Mr Shapiera an acceptable resolution was found due to
the intervention of a supervisor. Even so, his experience demonstrated how the
simplest of tasks can pose a significant challenge for a homeless person. Another
homeless person living in her car contacted the committee to alert members to
the difficulty in obtaining or renewing a driver's licence when an applicant
has no fixed address.
Mr Wilson, Salvation Army, reminded the committee that people who are
homeless or caught in poverty live in a very different world—they think minute
to minute. He provided some insight into the sense of security they draw from
their surroundings, which others cannot comprehend:
Sometimes we logically say, 'Why don't you do this; why don't
you do that?' But that is from our world. When you deal with people whose world
is the car park at Rockingham, to venture outside of that is actually unstable.
When you have a small amount of stability, you want to keep it. It is very
complex. It is a very complex issue.
Centrelink is often the first point of call for a person looking for
help and advice. According to Mr Shapiera, it is from this initial contact that
people are redirected internally or to other government services not
necessarily located close by. He suggested that setting up one team in the
major Centrelink premises that was trained in dealing with housing issues would
present a front face and satisfy a one stop shop protocol.
The committee notes that apart from the services that Centrelink
provides from its premises, it also has Community Engagement Officers, who
assist homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless and are having
difficulty visiting a service centre or calling Centrelink. These officers and
Homeless Outreach Program social workers deliver services in a range of
locations such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, mental health units,
drop-in centres, hostels, boarding houses, refuges and informal meeting places
such as local parks.
The challenge for such outreach services is making those in need of such
services aware of the assistance that is available to them and to ensure that,
because of their complex needs, the process of receiving assistance from
various agencies is coordinated. For example, Mr Nathan Quinnell had
been homeless for nearly eight years before he found out about Street to Home,
a national program delivered by St Vincent de Paul providing frontline
services to the homeless and funded through NPAH. He told the committee that he
had been sleeping in a tent out in the bush for a few years and if he had not
met up with Street to Home, he 'would probably still be there'.
According to Mr Quinnell, he found out about Street to Home through another
person who was homeless. Although connected with Centrelink during the time
that he was living in his tent, Centrelink did not mention this service to him.
He did note, however, that he did not tell too many people about his circumstances
because he was a bit embarrassed at the time.
Homelessness among Australians—the young and the old
Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia noted that young people
disproportionately make up around 50 per cent of those seeking assistance from
homelessness services each night.
Mr Craig Comrie, CEO of the Council, drew attention, however, to the critical
shortage of transitional accommodation for homeless youth. He then explained:
...the services that we support and which are our members say
that, at any given time, they can be turning away nine out of 10 people who
seek support from their service. Most of the homelessness services in the
crisis area only have up to eight beds, and there is only a finite number of
services in Western Australia. So we definitely do not have anywhere near the
beds that we need in the crisis area, and then, looking at moving on to
transitional accommodation, there is a huge, huge gap there that we need to try
to fill to get young people into transitional accommodation.
Based on its experience supporting young people, Youth Action NSW
observed that the fall in the number of affordable houses has had a
'substantive impact on young people's ability to lead fulfilling lives and access
education and services'. It noted that the increasing squeeze on an already
over-stressed rental market was 'locking young people with particular
vulnerabilities out of access to even the most basic housing'.
Ms Kerrie Young, Regional Development Australia, Gold Coast, noted that
her area had very serious issues with the lack of youth shelters. She informed
the committee, 'If you want to talk about the cross-overs, there are young
teenage mothers who are also in a great deal of difficulty at the moment'.
To date the committee's focus has been on securing affordable housing
for Australian households. Once housed, some may have difficulty remaining in
their home. Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia highlighted in its
submission the importance of ensuring that once housed, a young person has
adequate follow-up support to ensure that they do not return to their past
A successful social and public housing system requires long-term support that
understands the specific needs of its client.
There are numerous programs that are producing notable successes by
providing both housing and other support services designed to keep people
housed and to encourage them to become independent and self-sufficient. For example,
the Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia referred to Anglicare's work
with the state government, Foundation Housing Ltd and the Central Institute of
Technology to address the lack of accommodation and housing for young people
with its Foyer Oxford project. It described this project as a creative solution
...a strong collaborative effort to provide at-risk young
people with supported accommodation and case management to break their cycle of
homelessness, and transition to sustainable independent living'. 
From its perspective, Foyer Oxford was a 'fantastic' example of
innovation in the youth sector. Mr Comrie stated further:
It is the first purpose-built Foyer in the country. It has 98
beds for young people, with specific beds for young parents, and specific beds
for young people exiting the justice system and young people leaving the care
of the department. That service has been open since February but has been
operating in an interim model for quite some time and is seeing some really
According to Mr Comrie, the success of the project could be attributed to
the requirement for young people to enter into a social contract of engagement
with education and employment, which was a critical determinant in staying in
Foyer Oxford underlined the significance of having strong support networks to
help young people stay out of homelessness. For example, Mr Comrie underscored:
...the importance of youth workers and the way that they
practise and the way that they support young people is that they are not just
capable of dealing with housing as the primary issue and forgetting everything
else; it is making that a priority but also trying to deal with and supporting
young people around other issues. A lot of that has to do with ensuring that
young people have the information they need themselves to make the decisions
that they need to change their lives.
Access to services
Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia noted the tendency for policy
makers to promote land areas on the urban fringe but argued that that this should
It stated that education institutions, employment opportunities, public
transport, community activity and health services were limited and also
difficult to access in these areas. According to the Council, research indicated
that a young person's physical and mental health could deteriorate if these
services were not within a reasonable distance from where the young person
Older Australians and homelessness
Based on its survey, the most recent Journeys Home Research noted that,
although the young tend to be more at risk of becoming homeless, older vulnerable
people were not only 'more likely to experience homelessness, but importantly
to be homeless more often'. It contrasted the experiences of homelessness by
the young which tended to be transitory with that of older Australians.
The committee has already touched on the vulnerability of older
Australians to homelessness, notably those in receipt of the age or disability
pension in the private rental market. Mrs Ullman informed the committee that between
2006 and 2011, people over 55 made up 14.1 per cent of all homeless people in
She stated that older people face a housing crisis when they were unable to
maintain or to remain safe in their rental home or to continue living with
family, noting further:
A lack of adequate programs, services and supports for older
people at risk will lead them further down a pathway to homelessness. This is
especially so when a person is nearing retirement, has low and/or fixed income
and requires ongoing support for mental health conditions, substance misuse or
COTA raised concerns about the increase in homelessness amongst older
people, particularly older women, and the increase in older people suffering
from housing stress. It noted that there was 'an increase of 14 per cent
between 2011–12 and 2012–13 in the number of people over 55 seeking support
from specialist services'. COTA stated that this underestimates the number of
people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness amongst older people as many
were reluctant to use specialist services, particularly when they were homeless
for the first time.
Dr Faulkner indicated that older people were becoming even more
vulnerable to homelessness. She cited findings of the NHSC, which suggested
that around one in 10 older people was vulnerable to falling out of home ownership.
The number included women involved in divorce, separated from their partner or
widowed, who have very little financial capability to hold onto the family home
or to re-enter the housing market in any way.
To highlight the emerging problem for older Australians trying to find
affordable housing, Mr Yates, COTA, referred to the AIHW and stated:
...we are seeing increasing amounts—still small compared to
other groups—of homelessness, particularly amongst older women, and that is a
function of housing stress amongst older women without significant superannuation
and income. If they lose a job or something like that, then they are not able
to either keep up the mortgage payments or the rent.
Dr Petersen also produced statistics showing the number of homeless people
over 55 was 14,851 out of a total of 105,237 and of those aged over 55, 9,521
were men and 5,330 were women.
Dr Petersen explained further:
...it tends to be the single, older person who is paying rent
who is subject to more disadvantage—because they are receiving a single's
pension payment they cannot afford the rent—so we are more likely to see those
people at risk of homelessness and housing crisis.
According to Dr Petersen, older renters who, on the whole, had worked, raised
their families and lived very conventional lives, find themselves at risk of
homelessness for the first time at the age of 60 or over.
She noted that a recent national study found that 69 per cent of the 561 older
people presenting with a housing crisis over a three month period had conventional
housing histories—that is, they were people who had rented in the private
market while working and raising a family. In retirement, they then experience
homelessness 'due to gentrification, due to a lack of affordable housing'.
She stressed that the issue was one of affordable housing.
Keeping people housed
The South West Australia Homeless People noted that one important
question that the committee did not include in its Terms of Reference was:
Once you have a person/persons/family housed within an
affordable structure, what is required to keep them there and remove the risk
of them becoming homeless?
In this regard, Ms Young, Regional Development Australia, Gold Coast,
recognised the importance of maintaining people in their accommodation:
We need to ensure that the product and the rental cost meet
the demand, and adequate funding is available for supporting agencies to assist
people in maintaining their tenancies is also important. We can build stock.
The development industry knows how to do that, but once we built that roof over
their head, the resourcing agencies like MICAH and the others need to also have
funding otherwise we cannot support those people to stay in their tenancies.
Similarly, the Inner South Rooming House Network informed the committee
that clients expressed frustration that many services were not resourced to
continue assisting people once they were housed.
It is in this context that support services assume such a critical role
as do other forms of assistance designed to keep people housed. National Shelter
noted that it was important that Commonwealth, state and territory policies on
homelessness continue to focus on prevention and early intervention and develop
a range of appropriate support models to best meet the needs of people
Indeed, a number of witnesses spoke of the considerable benefits that
flow from providing people with safe, secure and appropriate housing and the
required support services designed to keep them housed. The committee has
already mentioned the link between secure housing and better health, education
and employment opportunities and, though their problems may be complex, the
same positive results can be achieved for the homeless. In its submission,
National Seniors recommended that housing assistance provided to the over 50s
and others who were long-term unemployed should continue for a period after
stable employment was gained and financial circumstances have improved.
The Journeys Home research found evidence showing consistently that:
...poor health is more often a consequence of homelessness than
a cause, and that individuals whose homeless experiences is characterised by a
lack of any form of shelter (e.g the primary homeless) experience the poorest
Consistent with this finding, Mr Flynn referred to research showing that
keeping people housed not only benefits the individual but also more broadly benefits
government budgets with 'big reductions in health and justice costs—police
costs'. In his view, there were 'good economic underpinnings to running
homeless services and cited Michael's Intensive Supported Housing Accord (MISHA),
which had demonstrated government savings by helping people out of homelessness.
He argued that justice and health costs were reduced substantially more than the
actual cost of delivering the program.
MISHA provides secure long-term housing as the very first step for a homeless
person. Once a person has the foundation of a home, they then receive intensive
support to address their issues and maintain their tenancy.
Similarly, Ms Christine Allison understood the importance of
keeping people housed:
People leave rehabilitation, prison and long term hospital
stays without any real prospect of secure housing; this undoes the benefits of
treatment. This is a huge cost in dollar and human terms.
Clearly programs such as Foyer Oxford and MISHA demonstrate the
importance of providing support networks that will assist a homeless person
once housed to remain housed. Such programs are central to breaking the cycle
National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH)
In 2008, the Australian Government, with the agreement of the states and
territories, set two headline goals to tackle homelessness:
halve overall homelessness by 2020; and
offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it
The Commonwealth provides funding through the National Partnership
Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), which commenced in January 2009. NPAH's
primary aim is to reduce, prevent and break the cycle of homelessness and
increase the social inclusion of people experiencing homelessness.
It contributes to the NAHA outcome that 'people who are homeless or at a risk
of homelessness achieve sustainable housing and social inclusion'. The agreement
focuses on three key strategies to reduce homelessness—prevention and early
intervention to stop people becoming homeless; breaking the cycle of
homelessness; and improving and expanding the service response to homelessness.
Jointly, the Commonwealth and states and territories provided over $320
million in 2013–14 under NPAH.
This funding supported over 180 homelessness initiatives and a range of capital
projects across Australia. The Department of Social Services also drew the
committee's attention to two small programs funded by the Commonwealth—the
Reconnect program ($24 million each year) and the HOME Advice Program. The
Reconnect program is designed to provide support services for young people at
risk of becoming homeless. A community-based early intervention program for
young people aged 12 to 18 years, this initiative provides counselling,
group work, mediation and practical support to the whole family to help break
the cycle of homelessness.
The HOME Advice Program provides financial capability advice and assistance to
people under financial stress and at risk of losing their homes.
It is to be merged with a new activity, the Financial Wellbeing and Capability
In addition to these funds, the Commonwealth provides a significant
amount of assistance to the states and territories to provide stable pathways
to housing and further training and employment for homeless Australians through
the NAHA. According to the Department of Social Services, approximately $250
million of the funding provided under the NAHA has its origins in former
programs for homeless Australians.
On 30 March 2014, the then Minister for Social Services, the Hon Kevin Andrews
MP, announced that in financial year 2014–15, the Federal Government would
provide $115 million towards the continuation of homelessness services in
Australia via NPAH. He stated:
That means that if the State and Territory Governments add
their equal share of $115 million it will be some $230 million for homelessness
services in Australia for the next financial year.
On 15 July 2014, the Minister indicated that all Australian states and territories
had signed the new agreement.
According to the then Minister, this one-year extension would 'enable the
Government to re-assess Commonwealth housing and homelessness policy with the
object of doing things more efficiently'.
Australian National Audit Office
In its 2013 report on the implementation of NPAH, the Australian National
Audit Office (ANAO) found:
In agreeing the NPAH in 2008 the Australian, state and
territory governments made a substantial financial commitment to preventing,
reducing and breaking the cycle of homelessness. The governments have committed
over $1.1 billion to new and expanded initiatives, but progress is not leading
to the achievement of the expected 7 per cent reduction in homelessness by 1
July 2013. Between 2006 and 2011 the number of homeless people, rather than
declining, increased by 17 per cent from 89,728 to 105,237 people.
According to the ANAO report, while the NPAH target was to be reached by
1 July 2013, the trend indicated that reaching the target would be 'extremely
challenging' and was 'unlikely to be achieved'.
The ANAO report highlighted a number of areas where the implementation
of the agreement could be improved. In particular, it observed:
Where significant reforms to service delivery arrangements are
being sought, the performance measurement and reporting framework should be designed
to measure the implementation of the reforms as well as the delivery of funded
activities and their impact.
Payments made through the NPAH are not currently linked to the achievement
of agreed milestones, as is the case in some other agreements. Creating a
payment structure that is more closely related to performance would enhance
public accountability in respect of progress being made towards the outcomes
sought by governments, and would be worthy of further consideration in any
The NPAH is based on a shared funding model, but the state and
territory governments are not required to report financial information to
FaHCSIA [the former Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs]. Where a co‐contribution
approach forms part of any future funding arrangement for homelessness, it is
not unreasonable to expect financial information to be reported to FaHCSIA by
the state and territory governments, to enable the department to provide
assurance to the Minister over the level of contributions made.
National Commission of Audit
The Report of the National Commission of Audit referred to various
reports from the COAG reform Councils, which suggested that there had been
'limited success in delivering affordable housing and reducing the incidence of
homelessness'. It stated that 'National agreements have added complexity and
increased the administrative burden to all levels of government'.
Future of NPAH
As already noted, implementing preventive measures to keep people in
their homes is critical to addressing homelessness. In its submission,
Anglicare stated its belief that an increase in funds for brokerage through the
NPAH was essential to prevent people and families from having to move to inappropriate
housing. The funds would be used for one-off difficulties: for example to
contribute to the clearance of existing debt and to provide material assistance
which supports the maintenance of tenancies.
Clearly, there are many programs that are assisting homeless people to find and
then remain in appropriate housing.
In this regard, Mr Comrie, Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia,
noted that there had been some great successes in the area of NPAH services,
which involved programs not necessarily about providing housing but which
provided the peripheral support services that homeless young people need:
So we know that young people who find themselves homeless may
have a mental health issue; they may have an educational or employment
disengagement issue; they may have a drug and alcohol issue. The NPAH services
actually focus on providing specialist support to young people in those areas
so that if they have housing they can retain it, and if they do not then they
can start to deal with some of the complex issues so that they can get access
While Mr Comrie acknowledged the successes achieved through the NPAH, he
also indicated that the sector was becoming increasingly anxious about murmurs
of the possible discontinuation of funding in the area of homelessness.
Mr John Bouffler, Community Employers WA, also noted that the sector
and employers had been 'extremely frustrated by the lack of clarity and
certainty' in funding.
It is worth noting that since 2013, NPAH had been extended for only one-year
terms. The current NPAH is due to expire in June 2015. On 23 March 2015,
the Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Scott Morrison announced the Federal
Coalition Government would provide $230 million to extend the National
Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) for two years to 2017. Funding
priority would be directed to 'frontline services focusing on women and
children experiencing domestic and family violence, and homeless youth under 18'.
The decision to make funding available for a two-year period is an
improvement on the previous one-year term. Nonetheless, the providers of
services to the homeless remain apprehensive about the continuity and certainty
of funding under NPAH.
It is also important to note that at a time when demand for appropriate
accommodation for homeless Australians or Australians at risk of homelessness is
increasing, government funding for such housing is decreasing. In March 2013,
the Australian Government announced that under NPAH it would make available
$159 million and that the states had committed to matching this amount taking
the amount to $320 million.
The following year, the government announced that it would provide $115 million,
or 44 million dollars less, to ensure critical homelessness services continued
to support some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.
The Australian Government's funding remained unchanged for 2015–16 at $115
million for each financial year.
Withdrawal of funding from Housing and Homelessness Program
In December 2014, the Australian Government decided to terminate its
Housing and Homelessness Program effective from 30 June 2015. This program was
designed to provide support for housing and homelessness through research, peak
bodies and innovative projects.
The savings achieved over the four years' forward estimates would amount to
$21.1 million. Ms Hand, Department of Social Services, explained that the housing
and homelessness program came under the department's review of its major grants
program. The review's aim was to identify ways for the department to streamline
and make its grants funding more effective and to provide better services with
Her departmental colleague, Mr Palmer, added:
...in terms of program 4.1, housing and homelessness, we had
$21 million in the portfolio budget statement for that program. The expenditure
that we have incurred so far this year is obviously spent, so that expenditure
will continue. The government agreed that in the next two years AHURI would
continue to be funded and then in the 2017–18 year my understanding is that
there will be no money in that year and going forward from then.
A number of peak bodies affected by the withdrawal of funding appeared
before the committee to highlight the way in which this decision had caused
'significant turmoil and uncertainty in the sector'.
The peak bodies support the organisations that assist the homeless and were
notified of the government's decision to remove their funding just days before
Mr Piarski, National Shelter, noted that together with many others in
the sector, the peak bodies had been at the forefront of developing a reform
agenda in the area of affordable housing and homelessness, which was now at
It seemed to him that the decision to axe not just the peak bodies but the
whole Housing and Homeless Program pre-empted the findings of the Federation
White Paper process.
Along similar lines, Ms Glenda Stevens, Homelessness Australia, stated
that the decision to withdraw the funding made prior to the Federation White Paper
process may well undermine 'the strategic approach of the federation process'.
Moreover, the removal of this funding would, according to Ms Stevens, have a
long-term effect on the ability of services to support homeless people and to
make their experiences of homelessness as short as possible. She stated:
So, if we take it right back to basics, it affects the front
line; it affects re-housing families, people from domestic violence, single men
and older people. Everybody who is affected by homelessness will be affected by
this decision, short and long term.
Importantly, she referred to the sector's significant loss of trust in the
government and the unease within the sector. She explained:
At least every day we have a member ringing up saying, 'Do we
renew our membership fees? Are you going to be here?' So, whilst most of our
money is government funding, we do get some from our membership, but already
that is being put in jeopardy.
Indeed, even before this withdrawal of funding, Ms Phillips, Australian
Council of Social Service, pointed to a general disquiet about overall funding
for homelessness, referring to:
...an annual cycle of growing anxiety and uncertainty about the
future of the national partnership agreement on homelessness as it is rolled
over for 12 months and is then looking for another 12-month or longer extension
until there are bigger decisions made about the future of these national
This withdrawal of funding and misgivings about the continuation of
funding through the NPAH adds to the uncertainty that has grown up around the
Commonwealth's commitment and contribution to improving affordable housing for
The evidence presented in this chapter sent strong and resounding
the Australian government cannot vacate the affordable housing
space or step back from its responsibilities to ensure that every Australian
has access to affordable, safe and sustainable housing;
in the long run, investment in affordable housing returns
dividends not only to the individual struggling to access safe, secure and
affordable housing but to the budgets of the Australian, state and territory
governments and ultimately the Australian taxpayer by having a more productive
community with reduced costs for social, health and unemployment services and
for justice and policing; and
the lack of certainty around funding arrangements for
homelessness is eroding confidence and undermining the efforts of those engaged
in providing assistance to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government:
take a definite and high profile role in placing affordable
housing at the forefront of government policy across Australia;
make a strong and certain recommitment to NPAH (including
considering reintroducing an ongoing capital component) and its continuation for
at least ten years;
task Homelessness Australia with investigating and quantifying
the service delivery gap to people experiencing homelessness, and commit to
funding NPAH to meet that gap;
recommit to the target to at least halve homelessness by 2025
(originally set at 2020 in the 2008 White Paper) with set milestones at two
yearly intervals to track and report on progress and to offer supported
accommodation to all rough sleepers who want it;
work to achieve multi-party support for this long-term goal
and, noting that this problem cannot be solved at any one level of government,
encourage states and territories to commit to this target and to coordinate
take a longer-term approach when funding programs or
agreements that would provide certainty of funding so that organisations and
people engaged in delivering programs can, with confidence, plan ahead and seek
to achieve continuity in the services they provide to homeless people; and
introduce an urgent capital program with the Australian
Government and the states sharing responsibility for funding through NPAH to
provide fast build, sustainable and appropriate emergency housing and
affordable rental housing to meet the needs of Australians rough sleeping and
seeking appropriate housing, with the target of housing by 2020 all rough
sleepers who seek to be housed.
The committee notes the criticism levelled against NPAH but is strongly
of the view that the partnership should be strengthen not jettisoned. NPAH is a
necessary mechanism that has the potential to make a real difference to housing
Noting that much of the evidence presented before this committee was
consistent with the ANAO's findings on the implementation of NPAH, the
committee recommends that COAG establish a working group to review the ANAO's
findings and reassess the implementation of NPAH to ensure that NPAH has:
clear performance measures that can be tracked and verified;
a requirement for states and territories to report to
government on their expenditure on housing under NPAH complemented by a
reporting framework that measures the implementation of reforms against set
benchmarks and the extent to which they are being delivered on the ground;
Commonwealth funding linked to the achievement of agreed
investigate Centrelink as a one stop shop to assist people
experiencing or at risk of homelessness with referral and in-house expertise to
link clients with services and housing.
The committee recommends that the Australian and state and territory
governments recognise the important work of advocacy and peak organisations in
housing and homelessness and provide adequate support to enable them to
continue to deliver their much needed services.
The committee recommends further that the Australian Government
reinstate funding for the peak bodies that represent and provide advice on
homelessness, community housing and housing and tenancy policy.
Williams decision—implications for funding housing and homelessness
The constitutional validity of Commonwealth funding agreements on
affordable housing was another source of uncertainty raised during the course
of the inquiry. This concern was based on the High Court's decision in Williams v Commonwealth
of Australia, which found that the Commonwealth had acted beyond its
executive power in entering into a funding arrangement with a private company
to provide chaplaincy services in a Queensland government school. In other
words, the High Court found that the payments made under this agreement were
not supported by the executive power of the Commonwealth.
Although, this decision would not jeopardise all Commonwealth funding
programs, it did raise doubt about the validity of some Commonwealth funding
programs including the Department of Social Services' grant funding offers. On
24 December 2014, the Minister for Social Services explained:
As a result of developments in the background law and the
High Court's Pape and Williams decisions; some programmes will require redesign
to ensure conformity with the law. Some grant agreements will be of two years
duration as that redesign process takes place. This will also help to ensure
service providers have the scope and flexibility to be responsive, innovative
and creative in meeting the needs of the community.
The minister made a similar statement on 30 January 2015:
The Government has also sought to focus on areas of primary
Federal responsibility, especially in light of the recent Williams Case that
has reframed the funding framework for many services delivered in our
communities, and removed the Federal Government from being able to provide
direct funding, where previously it may have done so.
According to the Department of Social Services, the Williams decision
may well have applied to the Commonwealth grants under its Housing and Homeless
program. Referring to the government's decision to discontinue the grants
round, Ms Hand noted (as explained earlier) that the department's review of
its major grants program was to make the grants funding 'more streamlined and
effective, to give better services with less duplication'. She explained
further, however, that:
...the review of housing and homelessness programs was done in
that context, also taking into account the potential outcomes of the Williams
case and legal developments.
According to Ms Hand, the Williams decision did 'not exactly' have
implications for the federal government funding organisations such as Homelessness
Australia, Community Housing Federation of Australia and National Shelter. Even
so, she went on to state:
In making decisions in this area, housing and homelessness,
the legal implications are a consideration; they are not the only
consideration. We are taking advice from AGS and AGD on
this—Attorney-General's. They advise what heads of power exist for the
Commonwealth and which do not, and the area of housing and homelessness, as you
are probably aware, is very complex in this regard. So it is a consideration,
but it is not the only consideration.
In some cases we are advised by Attorney-General's that there
is no head of power for the Commonwealth to deliver housing and homelessness
Another departmental officer, Mr Palmer, offered the following explanation:
I think it is better to think about Williams as a
prioritisation factor when looking at programs in a budget-constrained
environment and determining which programs should be contributing more or less
to budget savings. It was in that context that Williams was an informing
factor, not a determinative factor, if that makes sense.
The committee found the department's explanation of the Williams
decision and its flow-on effects for the Commonwealth grants to housing and
homelessness less than satisfactory.
The committee notes that the advice provided to the committee on
the Williams decision and the consequences for Commonwealth funding for housing
and homelessness simply adds to the uncertainty around the future of Commonwealth
funding in this area. The committee recommends that the Australian Government
clarify what the consequences are for Commonwealth funding grants for housing
and homelessness that flow from the Williams decision and how it intends to
respond to them.
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