The Prime Minister’s Council on Homelessness met for the sixth time in Brisbane on 4-5 August 2010.
Members attended a presentation on the Micah Projects’ 50 Lives 50 Homes campaign and visited a Brisbane Housing Company construction site. 50 Lives 50 Homes is a campaign to house and support Brisbane’s most vulnerable homeless people. Brisbane Housing Company works with local communities, service providers, charities and Government to provide appropriate, secure and affordable rental housing in the city of Brisbane to people in need. There have been 23 projects completed to date.
Maintaining the momentum and showcasing achievements
The Council spoke highly of The Road Home – Progress and Lessons eventconvened by the former Minister for Housing, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP on 22 June 2010 at Parliament House, Canberra. This event typified the energy and momentum that currently exists in the sector to progress the homelessness reform strategy. More information on the event is at the National Homelessness Information clearinghouse website.
Reducing rough sleeping
Conscious that the success of the homelessness strategy will largely be judged by its progress in reducing primary homelessness, the Council continues to put a significant focus on gaining a better understanding of the diverse experiences of rough sleeping, and effective service responses to it. At the time of writing, the Council had convened a workshop on rough sleepers involving practitioners and program managers. The workshop aimed to gain a greater understanding of the characteristics and experiences of rough sleepers, and the “on the ground” responses to this cohort. The outcomes of the workshop will be considered at the next Council meeting in November 2010.
Housing supply and the elderly
Discussions covered current and projected housing supply and affordability, the demographics of Australia’s ageing population, their potential impact on the nature and demand for housing by the elderly, and the challenges for housing and homelessness policy. The Council was briefed by Dr Judith Yates, a member of the National Housing Supply Council; Professor Peter McDonald, an expert demographer and Director of Australian Demographic and Social Research at the Australian National University; and Mr Bryan Lipmann AM, CEO of Wintringham aged care services.
The Council is encouraging early deliberations on possible policy responses for vulnerable older people in Australia, particularly those who have accumulated few assets when of workforce age, and are dependent on the private rental market. Options identified by the Council for debate are financial incentives for older people to live in shared housing or to live with family, and a national rental subsidy scheme targeted at vulnerable older people to support their tenancies.
The Council expressed support for the continuation and possible extension of the Assistance with Care and Housing for the Aged program. This was seen as a cost-effective program that supports older people to maintain their residencies and live independently in their own homes for as long as possible. The Council is of the view that a specialist response also needs to be maintained. The Council urged consideration of expanding the important White Paper program of capital grants for specialist aged care facilities.
A matter of concern to Council over several meetings has been investigation of the adequacy of the new Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) for assessing homeless clients. Following consideration of data collected at the client and provider level, the Council concluded it has concerns about the adequacy of the ACFI to recognise expenses associated with clients with high and complex behavioural needs, a profile which is common for homeless clients. The ACFI was seen as a disincentive to providers to offer support to this cohort. The predicted longer term impacts of the ACFI on the ongoing financial viability of providers was also discussed. The Council has raised this matter directly with the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) which is currently reviewing the ACFI and the Council keenly awaits the outcomes of this review.
National Health and Hospitals Reforms
The Council was pleased that Ms Rosemary Huxtable, Deputy Secretary, DoHA, was able to return for a further discussion with the Council on the opportunities under the Health and Hospitals Reforms for improving attention to the health and welfare of the people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.
The Council believes that the implementation of 60 Medicare Locals across the nation, to be rolled out by 2013, presents significant potential for providing primary health care services in an environment responsive to the needs of homelessness people. The Council has been interacting positively with DoHA and will continue to engage with relevant officials on the planning and implementation of Medicare Locals and other service responses.
Council recognises there is a high correlation between homelessness and mental health conditions, the Council has signalled its interest in work to be progressed on community mental health services due to be considered at COAG in 2011.
Indigenous peoples’ access to housing and homelessness services
Data from the 2006 Census shows that Indigenous people are overrepresented in the homeless population – while Indigenous people constitute 2.5% of the Australian population, they represent 9% of the homeless population. The Council was briefed by Mr Andrew Tongue, Deputy Secretary from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on key government housing and homeless initiatives supporting Indigenous people. Mr Warren Mundine, member, National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing, provided an Indigenous perspective on housing and homelessness services.
Council members noted the progress that was being made in the supply and improvement of housing for Indigenous people, as well as in programs aimed at reducing homelessness for this group. The Council acknowledged the broad approach being delivered through both Indigenous specific and mainstreaminitiatives under the National Partnership Agreement on Social Housing, the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan.
Council annual report
The Council has been in operation for just over a year and has produced an annual report. The report covers areas of priority the Council examined over its first five meetings. The annual report will be available at the FaHCSIA website.
The next meeting is scheduled for 8-9 November 2010 in Melbourne with areas of focus being youth homelessness, the intersections between the homelessness and the community services agendas, and workforce development.