No wonder the Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants to move homeless people on from Martin Place. The sight of their tent city must be an affront to all MPs working in Parliament House across the road, because it’s a daily reminder of how they are failing some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in this state.
The unseemly fight which has erupted between the Premier and the lord mayor Clover Moore over creating a so-called “safe space” for the people who now call the cold ground of Martin Place home should not be allowed to distract from the obvious fact: that having somewhere to shower and toilet and even access homeless services is woefully short of having somewhere to live.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian Photo: Paul Miller
While the Premier talks in terms of “public safety” and “unauthorised activity”, we’ve heard very little from either the state or the city government on how they might address the problems that cause people to end up homeless in the first place, let alone what they might do to lift people out of such a desperate plight. Instead the Premier and the lord mayor are arguing about who has the power to move people on, which the Premier seeks to resolve by legislating so she can send in police to dismantle the homeless camp and move its residents on to where, exactly, no one knows.
Yet research shows it is cheaper to provide someone with permanent supportive housing than it is to keep them homeless. The University of Queensland study calculated people use $13,000 less in government-funded services when they are securely housed even when the cost of providing the housing is taken into account. That’s because when people have access to housing that is safe and affordable, they no longer have to live as patients, criminals, inmates, clients and homeless people, as research fellow Cameron Parsell explained.
Yet neither state nor federal governments are stepping up to provide the strong, enduring leadership the issue demands, such as by changing the tax settings that fuel demand for existing homes rather than support new affordable rental housing.
It is customary for governments to couch the problem as one of lack of supply, as Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison did earlier this year. But increasing supply in the market alone will never put enough downward pressure on prices to make houses affordable for people who are homeless in markets such as Melbourne or Sydney.
Professor Hal Pawson, of UNSW, points out that the acute shortage of affordable housing exists alongside substantial under-used capacity in the country’s non-government affordable housing providers, which are professional and capable but hamstrung by volatility in government policy.
One aspect of a solution is the Federal Government’s National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation which from July next year will issue bonds to the market then on-lend them to community housing providers, giving them access to cheaper funds over longer terms to build a greater supply of affordable housing for rent.
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The state government is also experimenting with social impact investing which is recognised in a new report as providing significant opportunities to address the financing gap for social and affordable housing.
Developing such projects which help provide housing for homeless people rather than simply removing them from sight would be a much better look for the Premier and a much better outcome for the citizens of this state, especially the growing number who have nowhere to live.
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