Australia – National Strategies to Address Homelessness 

As is the case in many countries, Australia’s response to homelessness began with an emphasis on emergency services. In 1974, the national government passed legislation designed to subsidize the construction and running of ‘temporary accommodation centres’ for people who are homeless, to be run by not-for-profit community-based organizations and local government.

A big step forward was taken in 1985, when the government instituted the “Supported Accommodation Assistance Programme (SAAP)” which brought all emergency services under one umbrella, and became a major source of funding for 15 years. That is, it integrated a number of national and state-based programs and services for single adults, women fleeing violence, families and youth. This strategy involved all levels of government, which meant that the central government and state governments were responsible for the funding and delivery of the programme.

In 1999, the Australian government launched its National Homelessness Strategy, designed to provide “leadership in developing approaches for the prevention and reduction of homelessness" and broken new ground in integrated service delivery to people who are vulnerable to homelessness. The NHS aimed to:

  • Provide a strategic framework that will improve collaboration and linkages between existing programmes and services, to improve outcomes for clients and reduce the incidence of homelessness;
  • Identify best practice models, which can be promoted and replicated, that will enhance existing homelessness policies and programmes;
  • Build the capacity of the community sector to improve linkages and networks; and
  • Raise awareness of the issue of homelessness throughout all areas and levels of government and in the community.

In May 2000, the Government released a strategy document outlining its holistic and strategic approach to addressing homelessness. The key themes of the strategy included:

  1. Working Together in a Social Coalition;
  2. Prevention;
  3. Early Intervention; and
  4. Crisis Transition and Support.

So it is clear in this early version of a strategic approach in Australia that the themes of prevention, early intervention and transitions out of homelessness were central.

Several years later, the Government set out to create a new strategic response. It began by releasing a Green Paper, which was a discussion paper to be used to engage various stakeholders and the community in a broader consultation. The end result was the White Paper, titled: “The Road Home A National Approach to Reducing Homelessness”. Launched by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, the White Paper set an ambitious target of halving homelessness by 2020. The White Paper was accompanied by a 55% increase in government funding to support its objectives. The Road Home focuses future effort and investment into three strategic directions (the summary below comes from the White Paper):

1. Turning Off the Tap: Early intervention services to prevent homelessness.

Initiatives under this strategy include:

  • Increasing support for people in public and private rental housing to maintain their tenancies;
  • Assisting up to 9,000 additional young people between 12 and 18 years of age, to remain connected with their families;
  • Assisting up to 2,250 additional families at risk of homelessness to stay housed;
  • ‘No exits into homelessness’ from statutory, custodial care, health, mental health and drug and alcohol services;
  • Helping women and children who experience domestic violence to stay safely in the family home;
  • Delivering community-based mental health services under the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program (PHAMs) to 1,000 difficult to reach Australians, including people who are homeless; and
  • Establishing a network of 90 Community Engagement Officers to improve access to Centrelink services for people at risk of homelessness.

This section of the White Paper also makes mention of other reforms underway in other portfolios of the Federal Government which will have an impact on 'turning off the tap'.

2. Improving and expanding services which aim to end homelessness: Ensuring that Services are more connected, integrated and responsive to achieve sustainable housing, improve social and economic participation and end homelessness for their clients.

Initiatives under this strategy include:

  • A workforce development strategy for specialist homelessness services;
  • Testing new funding models that reflect the complexity of client’s needs;
  • Improving information technology systems for services; and
  • Developing quality standards for specialist homelessness services.

3. Breaking the Cycle: Ensuring that people who become homeless are able to quickly move through the crisis system into stable housing with the support they need so that homelessness does not recur

Initiatives under this strategy include:

  • Building up to 2,700 additional public and community housing dwellings for low income households;
  • Allocating aged care places and capital funds for at least one new specialist facility for older people who are homeless in each of the next four years;
  • Building up to 4,200 new houses and upgrading up to 4,800 existing houses in remote Indigenous communities;
  • Providing assertive outreach programs for rough sleepers; and
  • Improving services for older people experiencing homelessness.

Other features of the plan include:

  • A national homelessness research strategy; homelessness research priorities will include population-based research, cost-benefit analysis of the effectiveness of interventions and longitudinal studies;
  • A Council on Homelessness;
  • The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to create a new National Partnerships on Social Housing, Remote Indigenous Housing and Homelessness within a new National Affordable Housing Agreement (NAHA); and
  • The establishment of the Bea Miles Foundation to channel funding, in-kind support and sponsor innovation and research to support the work of governments and the not- for-profit sector in combating homelessness.

This ambitious plan draws on the strengths of both the American and UK models, but arguably goes much further. In addition to the focus on prevention, data management, collaboration across sectors, responsibility across government silos, the plan also includes a call for workforce development and a national research strategy. In addition, the plan also has a strong focus on youth.