Motion for LSIC to inquire into homelessness in Victoria

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Rod Barton from the Transport Matters Party moved a motion that the Legal and Social Committee inquire into the state of homelessness in Victoria. Below is the full motion and my comments of support.

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (09:44): I move:

That this house requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, within 12 months, on the state of homelessness in Victoria, and in particular, the committee should:
(1) provide an independent analysis of the changing scale and nature of homelessness across Victoria;
(2) investigate the many social, economic and policy factors that impact on homelessness; and
(3) identify policies and practices from all levels of government that have a bearing on delivering services to the homeless.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (10:58): I rise to speak in support of Mr Barton’s motion today, for the second time this week actually.

I do have concerns about the mounting number of issues being referred to the Legal and Social Issues Committee, and I suspect that at this point we in this place may need to discuss in more detail how we are going to cope with all of those referrals. However, I do agree that this motion is extremely important. We should—indeed we must—do more to address the cause of homelessness. That should be a basic obligation on all of us politicians, and there should be a bipartisan approach.

To put it simply, there are very few issues that exemplify inequality in society more than homelessness. We live in a modern, advanced, highly technological society, yet at the same time we have many thousands of Victorians who do not even have safe homes or places in which to sleep, wash, eat or perform many of their basic daily duties and functions, many of which we take for granted.

It is deeply, deeply concerning to me that according to the most recent census and studies from the Council to Homeless Persons 20 per cent of Australia’s entire homeless population is in Victoria. That says a lot about us as Victorians and as a government and the need for much more support in this area. Victoria has increased its homelessness rate by 8.3 per cent over the preceding five years, and there has been a 23 per cent rise over the same period in the number of Victorians aged 55 or older who have become homeless. I was going to speak more on those numbers, but I will not. I think most people in this chamber have already discussed those figures. However, these numbers are a very sad reflection of the broader changes that are happening within our society.

I agree with Mr Barton that from a personal perspective it is almost impossible to imagine sleeping outdoors, especially in the cold of winter, every night. I have done it once with a previous homelessness organisation that I worked for, and it was extremely unpleasant. What got us all through that night was that we actually knew that the next night we would be back in the comfort and safety of our homes and warm beds. It is also very challenging to extend that a step further and begin conceptualising the threat of assault and abuse to which homeless people are often subjected in the process of sleeping rough. So not only are they cold, often dirty—they do not have access to the supports that you and I and many other people generally do—but they also must at times live in fear of that general threat of being assaulted.

I would like to extend my congratulations to the many organisations in Victoria who do a fantastic job in supporting people at risk of homelessness, particularly our young—our youth. This is no easy feat, and we often see, as I well knew, working with the homelessness sector, that the resources available to those organisations often inhibit the work that they are able to do. One of those examples is that often organisations are only funded to support a young person at risk of homelessness for 13 weeks. So, within those 13 weeks you often have to address mental health and drug and alcohol issues, often trying to reconnect them with their families and a plethora of other barriers that these young people face. Now, if those things have not been established and supported in those 13 weeks, than that young person has to leave that organisation, and what we continue to see is that cycle of homelessness.

We often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and having shelter and a roof over your head is the first and foremost important part of supporting a young person to achieve many other things. If they have that roof over their head and they can be linked in with the proper support, they can receive the mental health care, the rehabilitation and the many other things that they may need to help them rise above their homelessness and be reconnected with their community and society, and that is imperative.

When we look at homelessness we must also—always—take a collective impact approach, looking at every other issue that continues to create the homelessness. So it is not just looking at why people are sleeping rough. There are many others who have already attributed these factors, but having worked in that field, it is so extremely important. So while it is wonderful to build these houses, we also need to have services that will often go to those people. We need outreaches to go to these people. If they do not have access to transportation, we need these services to go in and support them. We need that intensive case management, and that is what our organisations need to be further funded for.

Long-term housing options—which is something that I know organisations are looking at, putting people into private rentals and supporting that to sustain that—are just so important. I would like to acknowledge three rural organisations, North East Support & Action For Youth, Junction Support Services and BeyondHousing, who do an amazing job in rural Victoria.

I am going to wind up. I had a lot more to speak on, but I know that there are other speakers, so I certainly do not want to impede their speaking time. So, in short, I strongly support the prospect of the Council, through the Legal and Social Issues Committee, investigating the issues specified in Mr Barton’s motion in greater depth. And I genuinely hope that that will do something and go some way, even if it is a small way, towards improving an understanding in this place of the issues and what is most needed to redress them, and more to the point starting to correct the dreadful facts and figures on homelessness to which I referred earlier. I support this and I commend this to the house, and I fully support any work that is done in regard to all matters relevant to homelessness.