This week in an unprecedented measure, the CEO’s of almost 60 homelessness agencies across the country wrote an open letter to Federal Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison. The letter was placed as an advertisement in the Australian newspaper, urged the Federal Government to extend the National Partnership Agreement on Housing (NPAH) beyond 30 June 2015. The NPAH funds hundreds programs that help people in all kinds of circumstances, from rough sleepers through to women and children escaping family violence. Until funding is confirmed, will have to start making difficult decisions on whether to renew staff contracts and take on new clients.
We know that homelessness is getting worse, because the number of people approaching services is increasing (AIHW 2013-14), and the number of people in housing stress is on the rise (PC RoGS). As it is, we know that services are struggling to keep up with demand, with the number of people being turned away each day rising (AIHW 2013-14).
If funding isn’t extended, a smaller workforce will have to deal with a growing problem. This doesn’t make economic or social sense even in the short term. In response to the sector’s pleas, Minister Morrison’s office released a statement that read:
“I appreciate that the sector is interested in an early announcement about funding beyond 30 June 2015.
“Future arrangements for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness will be considered in the context of the 2015-16 budget, while longer-term arrangements for housing assistance and homelessness services will be considered in the context of the white paper on reform of the federation the government has commissioned.”
But waiting until May for an announcement is not realistic. Just like any business, homelessness agencies need to be able to plan their programs and workforce with certainty and forethought, and this requires funding certainty.
NPAH funding is split between the state and federal governments, with the federal government providing $22.8 million in Victoria ($115 million nationwide). The Victorian government has committed to its part of the funding for the next three years and Premier Daniel Andrews has also supported the sector in calling on the federal government to extend funding beyond this year.
If the NPAH funding isn’t matched by the federal government, services will be forced to scale back their operations, meaning they can help less people, and some services may close down altogether. That will put approximately 80,000 Australians at risk of falling back into homelessness and more than 3,000 jobs will be lost.
At the very least, the homelessness sector needs to know that the funding will be extended for the next 12 months. However a long term commitment to is what’s really needed, so agencies can focus on hiring and maintaining the best staff, and getting people into programs that have long-term objectives. It’s not often that the CEO’s of nearly 60 organisations get together to make a public demand, but these extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.