Homelessness

25 November 2019

 

I rise in support of the motion by the member for McNamara and thank him for bringing this national shame to light in this place. In fact, this is an issue that both the federal government and the New South Wales state government have shied away from for a number of years. It's an issue that reflects the attitude of those walking past—ignore it: it's out of sight, out of mind. But we're seeing progress. It's not just the member for McNamara who is speaking out on this issue, and I want to acknowledge all the community organisations who for a number of years and in some cases decades have worked on the streets to feed, house and find employment opportunities for our vulnerable homeless Australians.

According to the censuses, between 2011 and 2016 the total number of homeless people in New South Wales increased by 27 per cent. In fact, a closer look at these numbers reveals our national shame in even more significant circumstances. Those census numbers reveal that between 2011 and 2016 the total number of people sleeping rough increased by 35 per cent, the total number of people living in severely crowded dwellings increased by 74 per cent and the number of people living in supported accommodation or boarding houses increased by 19 per cent. These numbers are set against the fact that the total number of people living in temporary lodgings reduced by nine per cent.

Of all homeless people in New South Wales, over 2,000 individuals are First Australians. I know that in electorates like mine there are lengthy waiting lists of up to 20 years for social housing. I've seen constituents who, even though they are considered a priority, have been on the priority list for over three years with no offers in sight. Governments post World War II knew they had to house their fellow citizens to make sure that they could contribute to our society and our economy. They are our most critically vulnerable people. Homelessness occurs not just through the loss of employment. There are so many factors that increase both the number of homeless people on our streets and their vulnerability. Domestic violence, sexual assault, racial vilification, sexual orientation, family rejection, mental health issues, chronic disease, acute health issues, the cost of health care and the loss of family and social support systems are all factors in homelessness, as is the low rate of Newstart, as the member for McNamara pointed out.

What should break our hearts are the following statistics. The total number of children under 12 who are living in homelessness increased by 10 per cent in the last two censuses. The total number of people aged 55 and over who are living in homelessness increased by 43 per cent in the same period. This is a national crisis, a national crisis of shame, identity and of inaction.

One of the key influences of this disgraceful and unacceptable explosion in homelessness is the rise in the cost of living, coupled with stagnating wages. In fact, in the 2016 census 17 per cent of the homeless population in New South Wales was employed full time and over 16 per cent were employed part time. How can it be in a country like that, that if you're employed full time you can't afford to put a roof over your head? Full-time workers that are homeless increased by 45 per cent in the five years between 2011 and 2016. The fact that full-time and part-time workers are homeless now shows the pressures that Australians are facing, and this is partly because of the complete lack of action from both this government and the New South Wales state government.

In the area that I live, councils, such as Liverpool City Council, have had to take up the slack. In the past few weeks Liverpool City Council presented the Draft Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan for the area and it is currently out on public exhibition. People in Liverpool are facing some of the highest rates of drivers for homelessness anywhere in the state. That means that Liverpool, and with that parts of Werriwa, may be facing some of the most extreme increases in homelessness in the future. Liverpool council is taking action and so is the New South Wales government and the federal government. We must develop policies at all levels of government to address both the homelessness crisis and the drivers that are causing this crisis. I call on the federal government to take action on homelessness and to put forward a plan that will help address critical housing shortages and the underlying cause of this national shame. Providing housing that is affordable, safe and appropriate makes a profound difference in people's lives and it's the right thing to do in a civilised country like ours.