INDUSTRY NEWSNew South WalesNEWSVictoria

States desperate for social housing as rough sleeping numbers spike

The number of people rough sleeping in NSW has surged 34 per cent, according to the latest annual street count.

According to Homelessness NSW, the fourth annual street count recorded 1623 people rough sleeping, compared to 1207 people last year.

Street counts took place between February 2 and February 27, in more than 350 towns and suburbs in 76 local government areas (LGA) across NSW.

Regional areas were particularly affected, with Byron Bay, Clarence Valley, ​​Eurobodalla and Coffs Harbour joining City of Sydney in the five areas with the highest increase.  

Homelessness NSW Chief Executive Officer Trina Jones said the rising cost of living and a dire shortage of affordable rental homes was fuelling a homelessness crisis.

“This should not be happening in one of the wealthiest places on Earth,” Ms Jones said.

“Frontline services are so overwhelmed they can only help half the people who present to them and must make heartbreaking decisions about who to turn away.”

According to Ms Jones, NSW currently builds an average of 34,000 residential dwellings per year, with about 700, or just 2 per cent, allocated for social housing.

At the current rate of social housing investment, it will take more than 80 years to meet the current demand on the waiting list.

Ms Jones called on the NSW Government to support the Together Home Program, which has supported more than 1000 homeless people into homes, beyond next year.

She said the government must also urgently invest in more social housing which has been allowed to plunge over the past decade to historically low levels with waiting times blowing out to more than 10 years.

“We acknowledge the government’s commitment to drive homelessness numbers down and urge it to invest in the programs that work in the September budget,” she said.

“We can end street sleeping but we need to invest in what works.”

In Victoria, the State Government has been called upon to build at least 6000 social houses each year for the next decade to end homelessness.

Years of underinvestment has seen the number of people sleeping rough surge, while the number of long-term homeless remains high.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Specialist Homelessness Services report also revealed 22.5 per cent of people who received homelessness services in 2018/19 also did so within two years before and after accessing support.

Council to Homeless Persons Chief Executive Officer Deborah Di Natale said it was clear a greater investment in social housing was needed to address the situation.

“Having a large cohort of people experiencing homelessness long-term sends a clear message that there is simply not enough social housing in Victoria,” Ms Di Natale said.

“The scale of the housing and homelessness crisis is enormous but not insurmountable.

“Building 6000 social housing properties each year for a decade will put us within touching distance of ending homelessness.”

She said the Victorian Government’s Big Housing Build would deliver welcome social housing but the assistance could not stop there.

“It’s time for a major commitment for when that funding runs out given the spiralling crisis which is unfolding,” Ms Di Natale said.

The data showed 18,074 Victorians experienced homelessness long-term. In comparison, just 3313 people were allocated social housing in 2018/19.

There were 31,660 people – or 39.4 per cent of the 80,361 involved in the AIHW study – in need of long-term housing.

In 2018/19, 58 per cent of people who experienced homelessness did so for more than three months.

Nearly two-thirds of people who received specialist homelessness services in 2018/19 were women, more than 10 per cent were Indigenous and nearly 40 per cent had mental health issues.

“It’s so crucial that we never lose sight of how important it is to have programs that support the people in our community with the greatest vulnerability,” Ms Di Natale said.

“Targeted measures including wraparound support are key to addressing homelessness.

“The housing crisis will simply not go away. Decisive action will have incredible economic and social benefits for Victoria.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.