In a move that’s been warmly welcomed by those in the sector, the ACT Government has plunged an additional $2.5 million in funding into a group of specialist homelessness services ahead of winter.
It comes only weeks after a damning report into the sector revealed it was chronically underfunded and short-staffed.
The main beneficiaries are Ainslie Lodge and the ACT’s centralised housing intake service OneLink.
Currently known as ‘Winter Lodge’, because it only operates in the colder months, Ainslie Lodge will benefit from a $90,00 injection to fund its transition to a full-time, year-round operation.
The service provides short-term accommodation to men sleeping rough and assists many to transition to long-term housing within Ainslie Village or the private rental market.
Its support team has provided a roof over the heads of 380 men and helped around 100 find a more permanent home since it launched in winter 2020.
The bulk of the funding – $1,556,000 – will go towards the Territory’s homelessness and housing intake service, OneLink, operated by Woden Community Service.
CEO Jenny Kitchin said the team currently receives around 900 calls a month from Canberrans seeking assistance with homelessness and housing services. The funding would allow for additional OneLink staff to be employed and take calls and assist the team in responding to a “sustained increase in demand and complexity of clients”.
OneLink will also broker some of the additional funds to other organisations that work in the sector, she said.
One of these projects is the rough sleeping project, which provides integrated support, case management and tenancy assistance to 40 rough sleepers with mental health needs.
The project is operated by Marymead CatholicCare Canberra & Goulburn, which received $150,000 as part of a broader $906,000 funding package intended to support rough sleepers transition into accommodation.
CEO Anne Kirwan said the money would fund a community mental health specialist who would work with the group of rough sleepers.
“Many people who have been homeless for long periods have complex issues including mental illness, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and we find that connections to services and supports have broken down over time,” Ms Kirwan explained.
She said it was important they stay engaged with homelessness services and hoped the new outreach role could assist with this.
“This role will work closely with Axial Housing and other specialist homelessness outreach services such as the Lodge, the Early Morning Centre, OneLink, EveryMan, and the Saint Vincent de Paul Street to Home Program, to build long-term relationships with people on the streets of Canberra and to improve access to much-needed specialist clinical care,” Ms Kirwan said.
The release of the Counting the Costs report from the UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre into the community housing sector revealed chronic issues of underfunding and systemic problems with organisations pricing their services below cost when tendering for government contracts.
Other issues raised included an unsustainable workload for staff and high rates of burnout.
Minister for Homelessness and Housing Services Rebecca Vassarotti said the government was aware of the difficulties facing the sector and had been working closely with it throughout the pandemic, in particular.
“This funding is building on some great work that’s been happening through COVID-19 and really looking at how we support people with chronic homelessness and who are rough sleeping,” she said.
“We have been working really closely with our community partners and learning lessons from them.”
In the last budget, the ACT Government committed $8.6 million as a funding boost for homelessness services after revealing the sector’s base funding rate had not increased over the previous nine years.