Media Release by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Homelessness, small business on agenda for US

Federal Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Small Business Brendan O’Connor is in the United States this week for a series of meetings and visits with government officials, homelessness services, philanthropic groups and small business start-up companies.

Overnight in Washington, Mr O’Connor met with Nan Roman, the president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the USA, and with representatives of the Gates Foundation and the Butler Family Fund – a private fund which focuses on homelessness, criminal justice and global warming.

“Tackling homelessness is not just a challenge for governments – it is a challenge for the community as a whole,” Mr O’Connor said.

“The United States has a highly developed and mature philanthropic tradition, and I am keen to hear about ways to encourage Australia’s corporate and private sector to partner with governments and the not-for-profit sector in this challenge.

“The Gillard Government is committed to our ambitious goals of halving the rate of homelessness and offering supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

“There are some encouraging signs, with a 13.5 per cent drop in the rate of rough sleeping in the most recent Census figures and a 23 per cent rise in the number of people in supported accommodation, which shows that our investment in services is working.

“But there is much more to be done, and it can only be done as part of a community-wide effort.”

Tomorrow, Mr O’Connor will join Ambassador Kim Beazley at a fundraiser at the Australian Embassy for victims of Superstorm Sandy, which forced thousands of people out of their homes.

He will also meet with the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Deputy Administrator of the US Small Business Administration, and the Treasury’s Deputy Assistant Treasurer for Small Business, Community Development and Housing Policy.

On Thursday, Mr O’Connor will tour the Bowery Mission, New York’s oldest homeless refuge, and Common Ground’s flagship housing residence in Times Square. The Bowery Mission was also visited by Tim Mathieson in September.

“I spoke to Tim Mathieson about the Bowery model when he returned to Australia and he was very enthusiastic about the services it offers,” Mr O’Connor said.

“I am also looking forward to visiting Common Ground. Both these services offer more than a bed for the night – they include counselling, medical services and education and training to ensure that people do not simply cycle through homelessness services.”

Mr O’Connor will also visit San Francisco for planned talks with eBay, Paypal, Facebook and Australian early-stage venture fund, Southern Cross Venture Partners.

“This is a great opportunity for me to talk to some of the world’s most successful start-ups and bring those lessons back to Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.

“These are companies which started as small businesses and have grown into world-wide enterprises with incredible global reach.

“The Gillard Government is determined to create the environment in which small businesses not only survive, they thrive, and I am keen to get ideas and insights into what has worked around the world.”