Now they have finished celebrating their ten-year anniversary, it is time for the Howard Government to take up a new policy agenda and urgently reconsider its position on the issues of housing and homelessness.
Australia has seen ten long years of neglect in the areas of housing and homelessness with the government actively working against the interests of Australia’s most vulnerable citizens - by undermining the public housing sector and abrogating its responsibilities towards the homeless.
In August 2001, Senator Vanstone, then the “responsible” minister, said, “Australia has at least 60,000 and up to 105,000 homeless on any given night - in a country like ours that provides so much, this situation just can’t be allowed to continue”.
But the fact is the Howard Government has failed to make a dent in the numbers of homeless Australians.
On any given night, 100,000 people will be without a secure roof over their heads. On average, 10,000 of them will be children under 12-years-old. A further 36,000 will be aged between 12 and 24.
Homelessness services are under more pressure than ever before. A report released recently by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare confirmed what we already knew - that half of those seeking accommodation in a crisis have to be turned away.
Almost two thirds of children are turned away when they are part of a family group. Many of these children are accompanying women escaping domestic violence. All too often, these women are faced with the choice of living out of their cars or returning to a violent relationship.
The report also revealed that once couples with children get into a Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) service they stay an average of 122 days, while individuals with children stay an average of 55 days.
Why do families stay so long in supposedly “crisis” accommodation? An independent evaluation of SAAP in 2004 found that “Universally, SAAP services report that … the lack of affordable housing prevents many people who are homeless making the transition to independent and stable living”.
Despite this, and despite evidence that families and individuals are paying more and more of their income in housing costs, the Howard Government is blatantly disinterested in Australia’s housing affordability crisis.
In fact, the Howard Government has exacerbated the lack of affordable housing options for low income Australians, by stripping funding from public housing, reducing Commonwealth funding by 30 per cent since 1996.
An independent evaluation of SAAP conducted by Erebus Consulting Partners in 2004 found that a 15 per cent increase in SAAP funding was required just to maintain the viability of existing services.
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