Normally Homelessness Week is an opportunity to shine a light on this dark problem, to try to get some much needed media attention and get some public focus on homelessness.
Normally it’s also an opportunity for politicians to sprout the usual well meaning platitudes.
But this year, I think, is a bit different, or at least it should be different.
Because if we really want to, we’ve shown over the last few months that we can reduce homelessness.
We certainly can find a bed for people that are sleeping rough in our parks or on our streets. We’ve proven that because we’re doing that right now.
More than 7,000 people who at Christmas time or in January or February were sleeping rough – perhaps sleeping next to an ATM hoping that the security camera would provide them with some level of protection – have been provided with a bed in a motel room or an empty hotel room.
Sally Capp, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, gave evidence to the Homelessness Inquiry last week.
She said normally there’s about 1,000 Australians that sleep rough in the CBD of Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs. But at the moment 98 per cent have got a bed in a hotel room or a motel room.
I think the key question for us, the key question for the politicians and for everybody that wants to do something to really help, is what happens in the next few months?
What happens when the pandemic ends?
Do people get kicked back out onto the street?
Or do we find them a permanent home?
I want to thank and recognise the work that different state governments are doing here of different political stripes. There’s some important work being done.
I saw Dan Andrews made a really important announcement last week that’s about making sure that rough sleepers continue to be housed until April next year and investments to provide private rental accommodation, more permanent housing for rough sleepers.
But I really do think that the federal government’s got a role to play here, to show a bit of leadership and that’s why over the last few weeks, I’ve been calling on the National Cabinet to get involved.
I’d like to think that when we get back together in a year’s time – hopefully not on Zoom but face to face – we find ourselves being able to applaud a permanent solution rather than being told or already knowing that rough sleepers have been forced back into our parks and back onto our streets.
One very practical thing that the Federal Government could do is invest more in social housing.
As you know, that’s what we did during the Global Financial Crisis.
Tanya Plibersek was the Minister for Housing at the time. I stood with her yesterday and called on the Federal Government again, to do something like what we did during the GFC.
We built more than 20,000 more social housing dwellings and repaired about 80,000 dilapidated and rundown facilities – places where people literally couldn’t live in. And it strikes me that this is the sort of thing that makes sense to do, again, something like that.
The situation now is worse than it was during the GFC.
The economy is shrinking. We’re in recession. We avoided a recession then.
We’ve got unemployment going up. We were told last week, or the week before, that there’s going to be another 240,000 people lose their job by Christmas. Given what’s happening in Victoria, it’ll probably be worse than that.
Government assistance is going down over that same period of time. JobKeeper will reduce in size and scale, the JobSeeker payment is going to go down. We don’t know if it’ll exist past Christmas.
That means that invariably you’re going to have more people struggle to pay their mortgage, more people struggle to pay the rent, and potentially, what really worries me, is potentially more people homeless.
More people forced to sleep on a friend’s couch or go back home or heaven knows what.
That’s why building more social housing is such a smart and common sense way to respond to this health and economic crisis.
It’ll save a lot of jobs. We all know the housing industry is headed off a cliff at the moment and it’ll help to create thousands of jobs. It’s what it did during the GFC.
I know people are arguing for a SHARP-type model because of the jobs impact it has. It has a broader economic impact than that.
NHFIC put out a report about a month ago that said that of 144 different industries across the country, the housing industry ranks number two in terms of its multiplier effect.
You put $1 into building a house and you create $3 in the broader economy. So, its ability to help the economy come back and create jobs is obvious.
The data that you’ve put out today shows that there’s a social housing shortage not just in our CBD, or under the bright lights where we often find rough sleepers, but run across the country.
No electorate is immune. Every electorate needs more social housing.
As somebody who represents a seat in Western Sydney, I know it better than most.
The data out today shows that the Canterbury Bankstown area ranks two and three in terms of areas that desperately need more social housing, but it’s every part of the country that would benefit from a program like this in terms of more jobs and more money flowing into the economy.
Most importantly, Jenny, as you understand, as everybody on this call understands, what it will do is help us tackle the issue that we all care so deeply about, and that’s providing homes for homeless Australians.