Wednesday, June 22, 2016

NSW budget: homelessness funding

In the third of our blog series regarding tenancy and housing in the budget, we look at two more items concerning homelessness and housing unveiled by the Government for the financial year to come.

The larger of these announcements, from Premier Mike Baird, concerns a $40 million funding package aimed at preventing homelessness among young people. The Government will provide $10 million a year over four years toward 'housing, education, training and jobs support' to young adults leaving out-of-home care. The announcement notes that 60% of young people who enter homelessness services have been in out-of-home care.  

It is provided that specific initiatives to be funded include "more transitional housing properties linked to specialist homelessness or other support providers", and "expanding private rental subsidies and accommodation as well as mentor support to vulnerable young people enabling them to access education and training and transition to jobs and independent living"Though it is not stated explicitly in the announcement, this funding appears to be targeted at persons aged 19-24. 

This constitutes a major spending announcement, relatively speaking. The package is several times larger in terms of expenditure than the announcement covering support for Social Housing tenants - and a full 40 times the size of the veterans' rental subsidy discussed below. We certainly support efforts to provide housing, rent assistance, and related support to young people at risk of homelessness. This is particularly so for young people leaving out-of-home care: both Government statistics and the recent Registry Week report from homelessness peak Homelessness NSW suggest this group is overrepresented amongst our homeless population. 

But as the announcement is light on detail, we do have some questions. Most particularly, does providing 'more transitional housing' and 'expanding accommodation' equate to expanding the Social Housing portfolio? If so, how many new dwellings will be delivered? Who will manage them? Would they be provided in addition to other initiatives to deliver more housing under the 'Future Directions' plan for Social Housing? Alternatively, does the announcement suggest targeted allocation of existing properties to young people leaving out-of-home care? How would this impact upon others in need of Social Housing from outside this cohort? Finally, what does 'mentor support' entail?

The second announcement, from the desk of Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard, provides for the creation of another new rental subsidy. Valued at $1 million over an unspecified period, it will assist homeless war veterans to access the private rental market. This appears part of a pledge in Future Directions to increase private rental subsidies. That forms part of a broader objective to deliver increased opportunity for vulnerable persons to avoid and exit the Social Housing system. 

As Homelessness NSW recently noted on the issue, there is evidence that around 8% of homeless people in inner Sydney identify as veterans. But whilst all these people require housing, around half also require intensive support - sometimes for the rest of their lives. So though targeted rental subsidies represent a good start, more holistic support is clearly needed for these most vulnerable members of the community. 

A Homelessness NSW statement addressing 2016-17 budget measures relating to homelessness welcomed an "improved commitment" from the Government - noting especially the increase in rental subsidies. But the organisation called on the State to commit further to addressing the causes as well as the symptoms of homelessness; "Again, the increased investment in mental health, drug and alcohol services, out of home care and domestic and family violence is welcomed but in the context of a healthy economy, higher employment and a forecast surplus of $3.7 billion the time is right to significantly address the causes of social disadvantage and homelessness at a comparable level to infrastructure investment."

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