An $8.6 million boost to services working to help the homeless is the centrepiece of a $26 million community sector package in the upcoming 2021-22 ACT Budget.
The ACT Government says the money will flow over three years to expand the capacity of existing services including specialist homelessness programs that commenced operation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti said the funding boost would raise the base funding rate of the homelessness organisations by 12.7 per cent.
“This base funding rate has not increased over approximately the past nine years, so this is a significant commitment to help the sector deliver early intervention, crisis support and improve outcomes for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness,” Ms Vassarotti said.
“This funding builds on recent investments, including $1.9 million in the 2020-21 Budget for five specialist homelessness programs in response to COVID-19 as part of the government’s commitment to increase the capacity of the sector.”
But this funding will help about 40 different programs across the sector including those from Catholic Care, YWCA, Beryl, Toora, and the Early Morning Centre.
Ms Vassarotti said there had been a surge in demand for crisis accommodation during the pandemic and it was important from a public health perspective that people were not left to fend for themselves on the streets.
“You can’t stay home if you don’t have a home,” she said.
Canberra’s Indigenous community will benefit through the establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner and a suicide prevention program.
The Government has allocated $311,000 to establish the Children’s Commissioner position in a bid to improve the experiences of young First Nations people in the ACT child protection system.
It will also spend $2.2 million over the next four years on a culturally appropriate program to focus on suicide prevention, intervention and aftercare tailored for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans.
There is also a boost for legal services for vulnerable Canberrans.
Legal Aid will also receive a boost with $2.5 million over four years to maintain and strengthen its capacity to represent, support and assist vulnerable members of the Canberra community including frontline service support for victims of family violence and the elderly, as well as for vulnerable witnesses.
There is also $2 million over four years to support services delivered by the Community Legal Assistance Sector including the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, Canberra Community Law, CARE Inc, the Environmental Defenders Office and the Women’s Legal Centre ACT.
A $570,000 package for the multicultural community includes an additional $180,000 for the Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Humanitarian program to provide financial assistance for its clients who hold an ACT Services Access Card and to support the resettlement of refugees, asylum seekers and humanitarian entrants living in the ACT.
There is also $137,000 for emergency, material and aid services, $135,000 to support COVID-19 messaging and $118,000 to support a community partnership to provide emergency payments to vulnerable families.
The Children and Young People Equipment Loan Service (CAYPELS) will receive $762,000 over four years to continue operations and to develop a service planning model for its future operation. It will also allow for the purchase and replenishment of specialised paediatric equipment.
A Gender Agenda will receive $623,000 over four years continue its work with vulnerable trans, gender diverse and intersex Canberrans. This includes peer support, intersex specific project work and the peer-based navigation and information service, The Friday Centre.
Funding of $184,000 in 2021-22 will go to develop a model of care for five additional supported accommodation homes to support people living with enduring mental illness to live safely and well in the community.
An additional $100,000 will be allocated to support ongoing access to emergency food relief for those in need.
The pandemic response team will receive $509,000 to continue implementing the ACT Government Community Recovery Roadmap and $4 million over four years will go to increasing the community sector indexation rate applied to annual grants funding.
The Government says this will assist community organisations to help them meet higher wage costs following the recent Fair Work Commission decision to increase the national minimum wage and all award wages by 2.5 per cent.
For the environment, there is additional funding of $3.5 million over four years to local volunteer groups to help maintain and improve the landscape. More funding will be allocated to expand the ACT Environment Grants and to fund an additional ParkCare ranger in Canberra’s north.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the budget would support the city through one of the toughest moments it has ever faced.
“Today’s $26 million package ensures that those most in need in our community will continue to receive support as we respond to our local outbreak of the COVID-19 virus as well as in the years to follow,” he said.
“As we progress through the National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 response, this package is a further element of our response to ensure that no one is left behind.”
Mr Barr said this funding would help deliver support to Canberrans that needed it most.
ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell welcomed the measures, particularly the significant funding for homelessness services.
“This additional funding acknowledges the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis in Canberra which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“We look forward to further announcements in next month’s ACT Budget to address the shortage of affordable rentals and other community priorities.”
This package follows the COVID-19 economic support measures that have been previously announced which included increased funding for mental health supports, crisis and emergency supports, extending the Jobs for Canberrans program, emergency food relief and lifting the utilities concession to $1000 for 31,000 households for 2021-22.