Senate debates

Tuesday, 14 August 2012



8:17 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last week was Homeless Persons' Week, a week when all Australians are encouraged to think of those in our community who do not have a safe and secure home to call their own. This year's theme, 'HOMING IN on the real issues of homelessness', was seeking to highlight the many different causes of homelessness.

We know that there are tens of thousands of Australians who are homeless on any given night: couch surfing, staying in motels or emergency shelters or sleeping rough. It is estimated that Tasmania has 2,500 people who do not have an address or somewhere they can call home. Per capita, our state has twice the national average of homeless people.

There are many reasons for homelessness, from domestic violence and family violence to relationship breakdown, substance abuse, mental illness, financial hardship, youth unemployment and disengagement. Of the people seeking assistance from specialist services in the last three months of last year, 59 per cent were women, almost half were under the age of 25 and 18 per cent were children under the age of 10.

Everyone deserves a safe and secure home. A home is the foundation on which a person builds their life. Without a stable home, people—no matter their age—struggle to live healthily, to stay in training or education or to find and keep jobs. That is not good for them, it is not good for their families, it is not good for their communities and it is certainly not good for our country. That is why this Labor government has made homelessness a national priority. In our white paper on homelessness the Labor government committed to two ambitious headline goals: to halve all homelessness and by 2020 to offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who seek it. This government has committed almost $5 billion in new funding since 2008 to provide support services and programs to assist people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

In my home state of Tasmania more than $32 million in funding under the national partnership agreement on homelessness is supporting six new or expanded homelessness initiatives. I would like to talk about two of the new facilities in Launceston that I visited, and talk about another service that I have assisted with on one occasion last winter.

In Launceston, the Door of Hope Christian Church established a 20-unit accommodation facility in Thistle Street. This is part of the old Coats Patons Woollen Mills. The units were developed with federal grants and are now managed by Anglicare. The facility aims to be a halfway house for singles, couples and families, to assist homeless people to acquire the knowledge and skills to be able to move on into the community. While it is expected that this may take 12 to 18 months or even longer, there is no intention to provide permanent long-term care accommodation. The staffing in the facilities is to support people in learning to shop, how to prepare meals, personal care, how to prepare for education and employment and how to budget their money. Without the support and funds from this government, support facilities like this would not have happened. For too long homeless people in this country were ignored and neglected.

Thyne House is another facility, in Brisbane Street in central Launceston. That is another new facility. The Thyne House development is the first of its kind in Launceston. The initial thinking for the project focused on homeless young people, but following consultation with the community it became clear that this was a much wider opportunity to provide quality, well-located and affordable housing for young people close to jobs, schools, transport, shops and other services. Accordingly, the development now responds to a shortage of accommodation in Launceston for low-income wage earners and young people coming in from the country to work and further their studies, as well as for those young people who need tailored and specific support.

Depending on the residential mix, there are one or two permanent staff on site during working hours, and their role is to assist young people in their transition to independence. The support service offers the opportunity to develop life skills, leading to independent living; access to services such as training, education and employment readiness; general health care, including mental health and wellbeing support; access to flexible and long-term support services; connections with friends and family; and opportunities for participation in the community and for gaining self-confidence and a sense of control over their lives.

There are 30 self-contained units and a caretaker cottage. Most residents are young people accessing employment and education within the city—for example, apprentices or students whose work or study means that they must move to Launceston but for whom there is no affordable accommodation. Thyne House has a variety of open and private outdoor spaces, gardens and terraces. There is parking for residents, site managers and visiting services consistent with local government regulations. Reception is a single point with good security. An on-site manager will be available 24 hours a day. The on-site manager has an office located near reception and lives on site, as I said.

The independent units are a mix of one-bedroom and studio units. They are of high quality, with full kitchens and ensuites. Soundproofing is in line with standards associated with any private or public facility with units in close proximity to each other. The universal design features of the units are readily modifiable so that some rooms are accessible for people with physical disabilities. These units are based on design principles that maximise residential privacy and independence. The community areas for residents, away from the units of accommodation, include a laundry; kitchen and dining areas; common and lounge rooms, including a TV and games room; low-maintenance gardens with seating and private open spaces; and a training and learning room with information technology infrastructure. The innovative design allows a variety of community uses. Once again, it has been this government and the previous Labor government that made sure that homelessness was on the agenda and that brought about the delivery of the much-needed injection of funds so that facilities like this can be established throughout the country.

We have to understand that there is not one solution that fits all homeless people's needs. I went to the United States a number of years ago to look at homelessness and how it affects families. I visited shelters that were run by not-for-profit charitable organisations, Christian shelters and government-provided facilities. Each and every situation just brought home to me how much further advanced we are here in Australia. In fact, when I met with government representatives from the various states that I visited while I was in the US, they kept coming back to the same circumstances: that they look to Australia for the way that we deliver services.

The sort of thing that you have to consider is that it is not just young people and families that are homeless. Unfortunately, there are also growing numbers of women that find themselves homeless. Because there was lack of support with superannuation, there are a lot of women in their 50s and 60s who, for a number of reasons, find themselves no longer able to afford accommodation, and too many of those are finding themselves in shelters, sleeping rough or having to rely on families and friends.

But there is another wonderful service in Launceston, and in fact it operates in other cities as well. I am talking about City Mission and the mission's outreach van and mobile kitchen trailer, which services the Launceston community on Friday and Saturday nights between 10 pm and 2 am. Last winter Geoff Lyons, the member for Bass, and I spent the evening talking to those that were dropping by for a warm cup of soup or a cup of coffee and some biscuits. Many of those people just wanted someone to have a talk to about their issues and the things that were troubling them, and basically to have some human contact. So we have to always remember that these people need our support. Although last week was Homeless Persons Week, when we were encouraging people to think about this issue, we should be thinking about that every night. If you are here in Canberra and you have experienced some of the cold weather, that has to be a reminder to you that there are too many who are still sleeping rough and need our support. We are a rich country and we should be looking after those who need it most.