Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Helping turn the tide for victims of Superstorm Sandy

Minister for Housing and Homelessness Brendan O’Connor today joined Ambassador Kim Beazley at the Australian Embassy in Washington to help raise funds for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Mr O’Connor said Sandy had displaced large numbers of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut families and put significant pressure on the city’s emergency shelter system.

“City, state and federal officials are doing a lot of work to find vacant apartments in New York City for families who had to leave their homes because of storm damage and power outages,” Mr O’Connor said.

“But there are just not enough, and as temperatures fall, more people seeking shelter are likely to come forward.

“The money raised today at the Australian Embassy will go to the American Red Cross Sandy disaster relief fund to help with the amazing work they have been doing for displaced families.

“Immediately after Sandy hit, the Red Cross mobilised more than 14,000 trained disaster workers—mostly volunteers.

“Nearly 3,000 workers are still out there every day, providing food, water, shelter and relief supplies.

“In the first month since Sandy hit, the Red Cross has provided thousands of people with a safe place to spend the night. They have provided 86,000 health services and mental health contacts for people who have been living in very tough conditions.

“They have given out 7.4 million meals and snacks, distributed more than 5.2 million relief items, including hygiene kits and coats and blankets to help people deal with the cold weather.

“And, most importantly, they have given people hope.

“But so much work remains to be done, and today’s fundraiser will help the American Red Cross continue their efforts.

“Australia and the United States are good friends, and I know the large Australian expat community wants to do everything it can to help.”

Mr O’Connor said that while Sandy had been devastating for many families who suddenly found themselves with no place to call home, thousands of others already slept rough in New York every night.

“During each of the past three years, more than 110,000 men, women and children slept in New York’s shelters, with thousands more sleeping without shelter, and research shows the main cause is a lack of affordable housing,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The United States and Australia share a desire to end homelessness, because in relatively wealthy countries like ours, no one should be forced to sleep rough.

“That’s why the Australian Government has committed to halving homelessness by 2020, and made it a national priority.

“We have invested an unprecedented $20 billion in housing and homelessness services and programs since coming to office, and have made a direct financial contribution to one in every 20 homes built around the nation since 2008.

“For the past four years, we have funded homelessness services through a joint funding partnership with the States and Territories. This agreement is due to expire at the end of this financial year.

“Last month, I offered my State and Territory counterparts interim funding to keep services open for another 12 months while we negotiate a new long-term partnership.

“Federal Labor believes all Australians deserve a safe, secure home, and we will continue to work to provide affordable housing for Australia’s most vulnerable people.”