The Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness held their tenth meeting in Adelaide on Thursday 28 and Friday 29 July 2011. The Council continued their consideration of key policy and implementation issues essential to achieving the Government’s targets for reducing homelessness—as well as discussing ways to enhance their monitoring and advisory role. The Council was pleased to welcome the Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, for a discussion on the intersection of his current priorities with the focus areas of the Council. The key agenda items discussed at the meeting are outlined below.
Indigenous Housing and Homelessness
The Council discussed the important subject of Indigenous housing and homelessness, recognising that the complexities of homelessness are compounded for Indigenous Australians and overcrowding (as a form of homelessness) continues to be a significant issue in Indigenous housing.
The Council’s opportunity for a unique contribution on this issue is to focus their advice on the housing assistance needed to address homelessness for Indigenous young people while enabling them to pursue education and training and to meet cultural expectations. This will be given priority in the Council’s work plan for the year ahead.
The Council indicated their intention to hold a meeting dedicated to the consideration of Indigenous housing and homelessness issues in Alice Springs in 2012.
Mental health and ageing
The strong association between mental health and homelessness; the issues affecting vulnerable older Australians; and young people experiencing mental health issues who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness continues to underpin the Council’s ongoing interest in mental health services.
The Council is pleased headspace services will have a focus on providing outreach to schools and people who are homeless, which will assist very vulnerable young people to access services. The Council also believe that the requirement for future providers of headspace services to have a youth strategy in place and to have a reporting mechanism on the housing status of young clients will strengthen services and accountability.
The Aged Care Viability Supplement has been extended and the Council is broadly supportive of the initiative, noting it is an interim measure ahead of the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report: Caring for Older Australians. The Council will be considering the Productivity Commission report and will continue to provide advice to Government in the coming months.
Building the evidence base
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) provided an update of the approach of the ABS Review of Counting the Homeless Methodology position paper (which was later released on 2 August 2011). The Council remains pleased with the way the review is progressing and supports the establishment of the Homelessness Statistics Reference Group.
In support of the Council’s strong interest in understanding and responding to Indigenous homelessness they reiterated the importance of recognising overcrowding as a prevalent form of homelessness for Indigenous Australians in ABS data collection and welcomed further work in developing a methodology for counting this currently disguised cohort of homeless Australians.
The Council undertook to develop policy advice to the Australian Government on the future of social housing in addressing homelessness and will consider a number of key issues, including: governance and risk management of social housing stock; new models to focus on human outcomes and a preferred life stage model of social housing; and the importance of tax reform and the implications of charity law reform in deepening the investment in social housing.
The Council is building on the consultations undertaken by Social Ventures Australia which demonstrated that businesses are keen to be involved in the efforts to reduce homelessness. The Council discussed a range of ways to build lasting, productive and collaborative relationships with businesses to drive the homelessness agenda and will provide advice to Government suggesting a framework for building these partnerships.
The next Council meeting will be held over 8 and 9 September in Melbourne.