Canberra is stunning in the winter – the frost, the fog on the lake, the trees changing colour. But, Canberra gets bitterly cold and for one night every year Canberran business leaders, members of the ACT Government and community leaders spend a night sleeping on the street to raise money and awareness about homelessness.
As the Minister for Housing, I am sometimes struck by Canberra’s contradictions. Canberra is a city that offers a great quality of life, wonderful natural surroundings and low unemployment. But in winter, and thanks to initiatives like St Vinnie’s CEO Sleepout, we are reminded that these opportunities are not equally available to all members of our community. Thousands of Canberrans for a range of reasons, are unable to find safe, secure and, most importantly, sustainable accommodation every day. As a Territory and as a community, I believe that is our responsibility to do all that we can to reduce this inequality.
In my time as Minister, I have been impressed by the efforts of the community sector and the government to reduce homelessness, and the different initiatives and services offered to support those who are already homeless. By working together, we have seen funding directed to the development of Common Ground. For some, Common Ground will provide an opportunity to break the cycle of unstable and insecure housing and homelessness, and offer permanent and supported accommodation for people experiencing long term homelessness in Canberra.
Last year, I was happy to support Columba’s Uniting Church in Braddon to open up their doors for a few nights each week in winter to people experiencing homelessness to offer a warm place to sleep and someone to talk to. I recently visited the Church, and it is great to see that volunteers are once again opening their doors.
However, under the Abbott Government, I have also seen a real reduction in funding and policy direction for both Housing and homelessness across the country. The ACT relies on these funding partnerships to deliver the services that many vulnerable members of our community need to get by day to day. I share the concern and uncertainty of the sector as we wait to hear what the Abbott Government’s next steps may be.
It is also clear to me that homelessness is both simple and complex – simple in that it is indisputable that the fabric of our society and our community is weaker for every Australian who does not have a safe and secure place to sleep. Complex, in that there is rarely a single cause or single factor that has lead to over 100,000 Australians experiencing homelessness all around the country.
The drivers and causes of homelessness may appear to be a straightforward lack of houses, but the reality is more complicated. Yes, we do most definitely need more public housing and more supported accommodation. But, we as a community also need to work hard to understand and offer the rights kinds of support at the right time. We must invest in family counselling, mental health interventions, financial assistance and increased employment and training programs and develop a more nuanced and resilient approach to homelessness in our community.
I’m pleased to support the St Vincent’s de Pauls CEO Sleepout, and I’m grateful that I get to go home in the morning. I can only imagine how hard it would be to not have a home to return to.