A place to call home is a necessity and basic right for all Canberrans. It is deeply distressing knowing that there are some people in our city who do not have somewhere warm and dry to go at the end of the day.
Many people facing homelessness experience a number of issues usually stemming from systemic challenges in our economic, social and cultural systems. It’s what makes homelessness such a complex issue, one which cannot be solved overnight. However, with focus, collaboration and sustained effort, we can provide a decent home for all.
Losing a home is a traumatising experience. It also means losing a sense of security and stability which can impact our decision-making on other aspects of our lives. This means that in addition to providing a physical home, we need to make sure our support systems can respond to other needs that may be part of the reason that led to homelessness in the first place.
That’s why the ACT Government is committed to delivering more housing stock to meet the demand. We are collaborating with the specialist homelessness sector to better understand and respond to the needs of people facing homelessness.
Canberra’s specialist homelessness sector has deep knowledge, wisdom and experience in identifying and responding to the complex needs of our fellow community members who are sleeping rough.
We do this by co-designing to ensure better support for the sector, the needs of at-risk people, and implement frameworks like the ACT Housing Strategy, which provides a roadmap to how we can respond in an integrated way to providing a decent home for all.
We know there is more work to do.
The ACT Government has committed a further $18 million over the next four years to bolster the homelessness sector and improve outcomes for people at-risk. We understand the urgency of the need. We have already started delivering some of this funding support through Argyle Housing’s Winter Lodge, CatholicCare’s Mackillop House and extending the Early Morning Centre to operate over the weekend.
These organisations and services work hard to ensure that people sleeping on the streets have access to food, accommodation, bathrooms, and community and skill-building services. They respect and understand the individual needs of the person to better support, empower and transition them into long-term housing.
But this alone is not enough. We are planning to do more as a government, but to truly find a home for all, we need a whole-of-community approach. Not just local government, but also our friends up on the Hill and our neighbours in Canberra.
We must acknowledge that while we work hard to respond to this issue locally, the Australian Government holds a number of policy levers that impact our community and can lock Canberrans in need out of safe and secure homes.
We need their help to revamp social and community housing policy and raise the rate of JobSeeker. This will provide more homes and support people to live with dignity without having to choose between their home, food, education, or medical care.
A home should be treated as a human right, not a wealth-generating asset. However, Commonwealth tax policies such as negative gearing and low capital gains tax encourage overinflation of our housing market and create housing insecurity across Canberra.
We can also do some things on an individual level to help improve outcomes for people facing homelessness. If Canberrans are able to, they can donate to or volunteer for the many amazing organisations supporting people in need. It builds awareness about the issues that often lead to homelessness and brings in new voices, perspectives, and insights on improving outcomes for our community.
One systemic issue is an increasingly unaffordable market. As the market gets more expensive, more people are pushed out and at greater risk of homelessness.
The ACT Government is exploring ways that we can provide more affordable rental in the city. In addition, we are providing incentives to assist people in a position to rent out a property below market value through HomeGround and Rentwell to create more opportunities for affordable housing.
Ending homelessness means treating each other with respect. When we understand the unique issues someone faces, we are in a better position to transition them off the streets. We all have a unique role to play on this journey to create a better normal and must work together until we have a home for all.
If you are homeless or at risk of homelessness, OneLink provides information and connections for support services in the ACT, including services for families and young people. Call 1800 176 468.
Rebecca Vassarotti is the Minister for the Environment; Heritage, Homelessness and Housing Services; and Sustainable Building and Construction.