The NSW Council of Social Service (NCOSS) and Homelessness NSW/ACT have criticised the Iemma state government for not doing enough for the homeless, following the government's November 14 release of a 10-year plan to tackle the problem.
Acting NCOSS director Catherine Mahony called for an increase in public housing, saying that market forces can not solve housing affordability and availability. She said that the state and federal governments have to do more.
Homelessness NSW/ACT, which represents service providers for homeless people, wants a service network that would prevent homeless people falling through the gaps. "Homeless people are one of the most marginalised groups in NSW", Sue Cripps, the organisation's executive officer, told Green Left Weekly. "The NSW government has provided no new response to the 27,000 homeless people in NSW, the highest number of any state or territory", she added.
According to NCOSS, 175,000 Sydney households experience "housing stress", spending in excess of 30% of their income on housing costs. At the same time, rental vacancies are at six-year lows. This has created unfulfilled demand, and increased the lack of affordable housing.
Mahony said that one of the primary reasons women and children become homeless is domestic violence. Mental illness is another major reason, she said. The strategy to tackle homelessness, she said, must involve health, housing, law and justice initiatives.
NCOSS said that the NSW housing department has been selling off its existing stock of public housing to try and fill the funding gap. This has put further pressures on the supply of affordable housing.
Homelessness NSW/ACT wants greater cooperation between the government and non-government sectors with a focus on preventing homelessness. This includes "mental health planning, corrections planning, and working with people who are drug and alcohol affected", Cripps said. She is concerned about the overload on NSW refuges, which house 10,000 people and must turn people away on a daily basis.
In NSW, about 17,000 people struggle to find appropriate housing and rely on friends and/or family for temporary accommodation or sleep on the streets.