The Salvation Army calls for urgent national homelessness strategy
As the largest provider of homelessness services in Australia, The Salvation Army annually provides 887,500 crisis beds and more than 309,800 sessions of care to people who at risk of or experiencing homelessness*, as well a range of services in areas such as family and domestic violence. However much more is needed to address the complex issues around homelessness and housing availability.
This Homelessness Week (1-7 August 2022) Jeffrey Milne, Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Policy Research and Social Justice, The Salvation Army, explains the need for a new national housing and homelessness plan.
Over many decades, The Salvation Army has evolved as one of the largest providers of social programs and services in Australia and the largest provider of homelessness services.
We have witnessed the many drivers and consequences of housing insecurity and homelessness across the country through our extensive homelessness and community housing services, family and domestic violence and youth services, as well as in providing Doorways emergency relief, Moneycare financial counselling, and alcohol and other drug services.
From the breadth and depth of our frontline service delivery experience, and supported by abundant external research, data and newspaper reports, The Salvation Army has formed the clear view that unaffordable housing and homelessness needs to be addressed through the development of a national housing and homelessness plan.
We welcome the Albanese Government’s housing policy platform – in particular its commitment to a housing and homelessness plan.
Why a National Plan?
Within the context of rising housing insecurity and homelessness resulting from unprecedented property price increases, the lack of affordable private rentals and critical social housing deficits, these drivers of homelessness are not just a blip on the radar.
The current housing affordability and homelessness landscape now requires a deep and multidimensional response – a national one – in the form of a comprehensive national housing and homelessness plan (National Plan).
The development of a comprehensive and long-term National Plan has enormous potential to be more than just a vehicle that provides funding and sets out reporting and data collection requirements. Instead, it could provide the framework that could take into account the critical areas of homelessness need, at-risk cohorts and population dynamics and set clear, achievable and measurable goals to improve Australians’ access to secure and affordable housing and eradicate homelessness.
Essential considerations for a new National Plan
This National Plan would outline what investment in the supply of affordable and social housing is necessary, with clear responsibility for state and Commonwealth input. It would also bring together the economic and social levers for change.
The success of the National Plan would rely upon forward planning that is based on up-to-date economic and population modelling, as well as urban planning reform that ensures that the construction lag of housing properties does not impact the ability to respond to housing need.
A Commonwealth-led National Plan would work to align state and territory housing strategies with the National Plan. The role of state governments in planning, development and many other aspects of service delivery could be integrated to ensure maximum benefit to those along the housing spectrum, nationally.
To be effective, The Salvation Army believes that a new National Plan must consider and comprise the following elements:
Identify and engage the relevant stakeholders and portfolio areas
- Draw together the key policy portfolio and funding areas across all three levels of government that impact on housing affordability and homelessness
- Establish bipartisan and cross bench support
- Engage research and evaluation experts, practice experts, and people with lived experience
Evidence and research
- Investigate the structural causes of poverty, homelessness and housing unaffordability through a review addressing the adequacy of income support, Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) and other supplements
- Undertake robust population modelling to inform current and projected affordable housing and homelessness need for all cohorts
- Research for innovative housing models and strategies
Targets, data, outcomes, reporting and evaluation
- Commit to the eradication of homelessness, with clear targets to achieve that goal
- Commit to clear social and affordable housing targets that are ambitious and proportionate to need
- Ensure improved data and reporting for housing and homelessness providers
Cohorts and young people
- Fully recognise the many different cohorts, their current and projected numbers and specific housing and support needs
- Acknowledge the unique housing-related issues and homelessness among young people and ensure an adjunct/standalone strategy
Budget and investment
- Recognise the significant and ongoing investment in renewal, refurbishment, and upgrades of existing social housing stock to extend the useful and most efficient life of the housing assets
- Construction and retrofitting of energy efficient and environmentally friendly homes, that contribute to emissions-reduction goals, especially for low-income households
- Develop shared funding, co-investment and incentives needed to grow social housing in partnership with business and the not-for-profit sector
- Ensure planned and ongoing funding pipelines to maximise the capacity of the community housing sector
- Be adequately and transparently resourced, including clear responsibilities to address short, medium, and long-term housing and homelessness need
- Invest in examples of good practice and innovative solutions that can be scaled-up
While these elements would represent a substantial departure from the status quo, they are also consistent with the housing and homelessness policy platform of the new Australian Government.
With the crisis of housing affordability knowing no apparent end, the emergence of newly affected cohorts, the risks arising from increases to interest rates, and critical public housing infrastructure that has been left in decline for decades, deep, long-term and multidimensional reform is urgently required.
As a society, we don’t have to accept that unaffordable housing and homelessness are inevitable and beyond our control. We know it doesn’t have to be this way. Therefore, The Salvation Army is calling on the Albanese Government to develop a National Housing and Homelessness Plan that has the depth and breadth to end homelessness now and into the future.**
*Source: The Salvation Army Annual Report, 2020-21
**Segments of this article first appeared in Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity magazine – and have been updated following the 2022 federal election.