18 October 2022

'Concerning' stats on homelessness show high rate of clients end up back in system

| Lottie Twyford
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Homeless man sleeping in car

The latest homelessness services statistics show the ACT is among the states with the highest proportion of repeat homelessness across the country. Photo: Region.

The latest homelessness statistics are out for the ACT and it’s not good news.

Homelessness and Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti described the latest statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) as “concerning”, particularly around the areas of repeat homelessness.

The ACT was among the top states for the proportion of people returning to the system to seek help for homelessness when compared with other jurisdictions.

“We want homelessness in the ACT to be rare, brief and non-recurring,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“We need to work out what to do to crack chronic homelessness.”

Homelessness graph

Homelessness statistics in the ACT. Image: AIHW.

In the Territory, 65.7 per cent of clients who engaged with specialist homelessness services were those who had previously received support.

This compared with a national average of 61 per cent, although South Australia had the highest proportion of returning clients (67 per cent).

Despite this, the overall trend showed returning clients as a proportion of total clients dipped compared with last year.

Rebecca Vassarotti

Homelessness and Housing Services Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the AIHW data was of concern to her. Photo: Region.

Ms Vassarotti said the issue of people remaining in situations of precarity and homelessness could not be solved overnight as it was a complex one.

She acknowledged there was a need to address the challenges that lead people into the homelessness cycle and what keeps them there and that innovative approaches would be necessary.

Those initiatives included working with the city’s homelessness services sector to identify, record and better understand Canberrans who are sleeping rough on the streets, squatting, or living in cars, parks, railway carriages or improvised dwellings.

READ ALSO Canberra walking group gets on the front foot of men’s mental health

Baseline funding for the ACT’s homelessness sector has increased from $20 million in 2018-2019 to $30 million in 2022-23.

Ms Vassarotti said while it had been clear for a while a funding boost was necessary, it wasn’t just about more investment.

“We know that we have needed to put more investment into specialist homelessness services … but it’s clear to me we’re not going to solve homelessness [without] looking at the pressures across the board in terms of housing stress,” she said.

“When we have a system with housing stress, it’s the most vulnerable who are under the most pressure.”

READ ALSO Housing must be addressed before issues spiral, community sector says

The report showed that during the 2020-21 financial year, one in 107 people in the Territory received homelessness assistance, which was below the national average of one in 92.

That amounted to a total of 4000 clients being assisted by specialist services in the year.

The main reason people sought assistance was financial difficulties (45 per cent compared with 39 per cent nationally), housing crisis (44 per cent compared with 34 per cent) and housing affordability (44 per cent compared with 29 per cent).

Community sector leaders have pointed to the importance of solving housing for people before a lack of shelter impacts negatively on the rest of their lives.

Woden Community Service (WCS) CEO Jenny Kitchin told Region earlier this year a lack of housing “bleeds across all areas”.

”If you cannot house people, then a whole lot of other things – such as child protection, substance abuse and alcohol and drug abuse – all fall out of that. If we don’t address this now, it can only get worse,” Ms Kitchin said.

The sector has consistently cried out for a funding boost to manage increased demand after a damning report earlier this year found it was chronically underfunded and services repeatedly tendered below cost when vying for government contracts.

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