In 2008, the Australian government issued The Road Home – A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness, a White Paper outlining an “urgent” and “sustained” strategy for tackling homelessness in Australia. In The Road Home, the government committed to halving homelessness, and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it, by the year 2020. Under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments signed on to these commitments.
It is now 2020. Homelessness has not been halved. On the contrary, homelessness in Australia has increased by 14% over the last five years. In 2008, there were around 105,000 people homeless on any given night; on Census night 2016, the figure was 116,427. Rough sleepers have not been housed; an estimated 8,200 people were sleeping rough on Census night 2016, up 20% from 2011.
There are a number of reasons, rooted in both politics and policy, why the commitments made in 2008 have not been realised. The goal of this submission is not to rehash that history, but to argue that this moment, in which the COVID-19 pandemic has made the reconstruction of our society not only possible but necessary, is the moment for a new national housing and homelessness strategy that is realistic about the investment that will be necessary to stop this problem spiralling even further.
Per Capita recommends that a permanent, dedicated national housing authority is set up to coordinate this national housing and homelessness strategy. The Commonwealth government’s policy leadership should be driven by a National Cabinet coordinating mechanism with delivery at the state, territory, and local levels. Australia has a complex housing system with policy levers at multiple levels, but the Commonwealth must take back responsibility for this national crisis.
The dominant cause of homelessness for people in Australia is not being able to afford housing. There are two sides to this coin. The first is poverty; homelessness, housing stress, rental arrears, and eviction all caused by financial stress and the lack of support available to those who find themselves unable to afford their housing. The second is unaffordable housing itself; the way in which Australia’s housing market is structured and organised to benefit relatively wealthy property owners and investors rather than to provide safe and secure housing for everyone who needs it.
This submission will address both sides of this coin: firstly, by looking at the relationship between poverty and homelessness in Australia and arguing that the Commonwealth government can address homelessness by addressing poverty and protecting people against rental arrears, housing crisis, and eviction; secondly, by unpacking the issue of unaffordable housing and recommending a two-pronged strategy of de-commodifying our housing market and rebuilding our public housing.
Finally, the submission makes a series of recommendations relevant to specific groups who are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and whose experiences have informed other Per Capita research: people sleeping rough, older people, and single parents.