Speech by The Hon Julie Collins MP

Launch of National Homeless Persons’ Week

Location: Melbourne

Good morning.

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders, both past and present and any Elders who are here with us today.

I would also like to acknowledge Ms Liz Fritz, Treasurer of Homelessness Australia and Mr Mark Bolton, General Manager of the Ladder, and thank them for the great work they do in assisting vulnerable Australians.

My colleague the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Brendan O’Connor, is unfortunately unable to attend today’s event but asked that I extend his apologies and he sends his best wishes.

It’s a pleasure to be here today representing Brendan at this national launch of Homeless Persons’ Week – a week when all Australians are encouraged to think of those in our community who do not have a safe and secure home to call their own.

We know there are tens of thousands of Australians who are homeless on any given night – couch surfing, staying in motels or emergency shelters, or sleeping rough.

Many of these are families. Of the people seeking assistance from specialist services in the three months to December last year, 59 per cent were women, almost half were under the age of 25, and 18 per cent were children under the age of 10.

It is not acceptable in this country, a relatively wealthy one, that so many Australians are homeless.

It is indefensible that a mother and her children are living in a car or that a teenager is sleeping rough.

Women and Homelessness

As Minister for the Status of Women, I know all too well that domestic and family violence is the main reason women seek help from homelessness services, which includes women’s refuges.

It is the main reason why children are homeless.

The Australian Government, together with the states and territories, have committed to a range of initiatives to help women and children escaping domestic violence under the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness.

There are more than 180 initiatives under the Agreement – 30 of them specifically targeting women and children escaping domestic or family violence across Australia.

In 2010-11, assistance was delivered in 16,400 cases where women and children were experiencing family or domestic violence.

The Australian Government has also committed $86 million to the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 – a single, unified strategy bringing together government and community efforts to reduce violence against women.

Making homelessness a national priority

Everyone deserves a safe and secure home. A home is the foundation on which a person builds their life.

Without a stable home, people – no matter their age – struggle to live healthily, stay in training or education, or find and keep jobs.

That’s not good for them, for their families, for their communities or for the country.

That is why this Labor Government has made homelessness a national priority.

In our White Paper on homelessness we committed to two ambitious headline goals, to halve overall homelessness and to offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it by 2020.

Government action

To achieve our goals, the Labor Government has committed almost $5 billion in new funding since 2008 to provide support services and programs to assist people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

This includes the $1.1 billion National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which has seen over 180 new or expanded services established across the country and 22 here in Victoria.

This Labor Government has invested over $20 billion in making housing more affordable.

We’re building over 20,000 new social housing homes through our $6 billion social housing investment, which is the largest commitment ever by an Australian Government. More than 18,000 of these dwellings are now completed and 16,000 homes have families living in them.

More than 8,000 of these individuals and families were homeless before being housed thanks to the Labor Government’s investment.

And we’ve repaired and refurbished a further 80,000 homes, many of which would have been uninhabitable.

Indeed, this Labor Government has made a direct financial contribution to one in every 20 new homes built since 2008. This is in stark contrast to the years of neglect from the Coalition – who ripped $3.1 billion out of the housing budget.

Here in Victoria our investment has built more than 4000 new homes and repaired another 9,300.
As recognised in our inaugural White Paper on Homelessness, we have intervened early to prevent homelessness.

As a result of the community-based early intervention service, Reconnect, more than 50,000 young people are back with their families, and are in school or are in training.

The Household Organisational Management Expenses Advice Program has helped over 3,600 families to stay off the streets by providing advice and assistance to people who were struggling to pay the rent or keep up with the mortgage during personal or financial crises.

In my home State of Tasmania, more than $32 million in funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness is supporting six new or expanded homelessness initiatives.

These include the Keys to the Future and Stay programs – funded through a contribution of almost $5 million by the Australian and Tasmanian Governments.

The two services work together to provide an intensive, holistic and long term response to help 100 vulnerable people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. They’re achieving some wonderful results.

But we know much more needs to be done.

Homeless Persons’ Week

The Australian Government is pleased to support this year’s Homeless Persons’ Week with a $20,000 sponsorship under the National Homelessness Strategy.

This year National Homeless Persons’ Week will focus on the many and varied reasons that lead to homelessness.

They can range from domestic and family violence, to relationship breakdown, substance abuse, mental illness, financial hardship, and youth unemployment and disengagement.

Events will be held right across the country – including street soccer matches, surfing competitions and sleep outs.

Some of these events are raising funds for local homelessness services. Others are simply raising awareness of the challenges homeless people face every day.

I’m so pleased to be here today because I know how hard people in this room work to make the lives of our vulnerable Australians just that little bit easier.

The Ladder Foyer here works to provide stable housing options, access to vocational training and wrap-around support services to young people between 12 and 24 and has achieved fantastic success.

I am delighted to hear that many young people have made the transition from Ladder to independent living.

It says a lot about the success of this service.

Again, thanks to Homelessness Australia for inviting me to help launch Homeless Persons’ Week.

I hope all the wonderful events you and your members have organised around the country are a success and that they help make more Australians aware of this very important issue.

Thank you.