20 Sep 2012 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Social Housing and Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion on the subject of homelessness.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Earlier this year, Homelessness Australia published a highly critical report of federal/state reform for homelessness, The report, 'Making the grade?' identifies widespread fear and damage among service providers under reforms contained in the 2008 federal homelessness white paper, 'The road home'. A survey by the Independent Community-wide Homelessness Administrators Group in the report found that, in South Australia:

...93 per cent [of providers] agreed that fear of retribution (funding loss) exists in the homelessness sector about speaking out in disagreement with Government...


...85 per cent agreed that there had been negative outcomes for clients as a result of the 'reforms'.

The report also highlighted concerns with the state government's move to competitive tendering. The report said:

...it caused a great deal of anxiety within the homelessness sector in South Australia and [the process] was incredibly damaging for sector morale.

My questions are:

1.Does the minister consider such issues to currently exist in the homelessness sector?

2.What actions has the minister taken in response to this report?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers) (14:29): I thank the honourable member for her most important question on the issue of homelessness. The Australian Community Sector Survey is an annual online survey which collects data about non-government and not-for-profit welfare sectors. As I am advised, of the 665 organisations that returned valid responses to the survey, only 91 are identified as providers of housing, or homelessness services.

The survey findings in relation to housing and homelessness services for the period of 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011 apparently found 81 per cent of organisations (although, bear in mind, only 91 of the 665 organisations were identified as housing or homelessness services) reporting that demand for their services could not be met. They said that just over 20,000 people reported being turned away nationally, which equates to about roughly 56 a day. That turn-away rate, I understand, was about 8 per cent.

So the 81 per cent unable to meet the demand statistic in the ACSS is determined by a number of 'disagree' or 'strongly disagree' reasons given by 82 organisations to the question, 'Our organisation was able to meet the demand for services.' This response, I say, cannot really be used in the way it has been reported in the media because it really does not generally reflect the state of unmet demand in housing or homelessness services across Australia.

In relation to turn-away numbers, the ACSS does not define the term 'service'. It is therefore not possible to differentiate whether people were turned away from obtaining accommodation, or perhaps support services such as advice or information, counselling or other outreach. The ACSS does not define 'turn-away', which makes it difficult to ascertain whether the data refers to people who were only assisted on the day that the request was made, or otherwise. This makes it difficult for a useful or meaningful comparison to be made with the reporting on turn-aways from accommodation released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, for example.

On 15 December 2011, the AIHW released its report titled 'People turned away from government funded specialist homeless accommodation in 2010-11'. This report was based on data from the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program national data collection for 2010-11 which, on 1 July 2011, has been replaced by the Specialist Homelessness Services collection.

In addition, 553 specialist homelessness agencies provided valid responses on turn-aways to the AIHW. For the period 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011, 59 per cent of all people making new requests for immediate accommodation were in that report. However, new requests make up only 4 per cent of the total demand for accommodation. When new requests plus all people currently in accommodation are considered, only 2 per cent of all people who sought immediate accommodation were newly accommodated, and only 2 per cent were turned away.

The Australian Community Sector Survey included a number of service profiles which included domestic violence, emergency relief, housing and homelessness, legal services and youth services. These were developed from respondents who were asked to nominate the types of people making up the majority of their clientele. The article in the media draws on data from some of these profiles such as legal and domestic violence services to support the argument that housing and homelessness services have a high proportion of turn-aways. In doing this, the turn-away statistic regarding housing and homelessness is rather inflated.

Within the headline 'Findings' section of the report, ACOSS recognises valuable funding increases provided by governments which have resulted in services being able to exit more people from crisis services into ongoing accommodation. I understand that, for ACOSS, this is evidence that funding for services and investment in secure affordable housing stock needs to be sustained over time and that funding needs to be by cooperation of the federal government with the state government.

I understand that several years ago this government implemented an innovative response to the recognised difficulties for homeless people to access legal advice and supplement the work of community legal centres. In 2006, the Housing Legal Clinic was established by the then minister for housing and now premier, Jay Weatherill. Its aim was to reduce the number of both social and private tenants at risk of eviction or becoming homeless through intervention and access to pro bono legal services. It was initially funded as a pilot project in 2006, and in 2007 an evaluation report clearly demonstrated the success of the HLC and recognised the positive contribution the clinics had made to the lives of those who were either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Ongoing funding has subsequently been provided for the minister's Housing Advice and Community Fund, and I am advised that, as of last year, the amount funded was $131,800 per annum. Since its inception, 300 volunteer lawyers have conducted 1,620 legal clinics, seeing over 3,000 clients and providing pro bono legal advice around housing and homelessness issues and services in excess of $3 million.