21 August 2019
Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (18:12): Today I will talk about homelessness and shine a light on the hidden truths about homelessness in 2019. More than 116,427 people across Australia were counted on the night of the 2016 census as being homeless—an increase of nearly 14 per cent from 2011. Of those 116.427 people, 42 per cent were female; a shocking 20 per cent were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander; and a staggering 42 per cent were under 24 years of age. The data clearly shows that the extent of homelessness in this State is worsening. As at 2016, 37,715 people were homeless in New South Wales—a staggering increase of 37 per cent from 2011. I repeat, an increase of 37 per cent in New South Wales over that five year period compared with a 14 per cent increase across Australia.
New South Wales records the largest increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. The latest census data shows that from 2011 to 2016 the number of people living in "severely crowded dwellings" in Australia increased from 41,370 to 51,088. In that period New South Wales also recorded the largest increase in the number of people living in "other marginal housing", and the rate per 10,000 persons of people in "other marginal housing" is also increasing. It is not good enough; it is actually getting worse. Street count figures released by Homelessness NSW show that in February 2019 there were 373 people sleeping rough in inner city Sydney. That is an increase of 13 per cent from the February 2018 street count. A staggering 13 per cent increase in just one year.
There are 60,000 families on the social housing waiting list in New South Wales and according to Anglicare, fewer than 1 per cent of private rentals are affordable for people on low incomes in greater Sydney. My own electorate of Coogee, an apparently affluent area, recorded an above State average increase of homelessness of 16 per cent. Coogee has in fact the sixteenth highest level of homelessness in the State. This is the tip of an iceberg. There are just so many more people in crises, facing huge difficulties paying their rent, moving from their own apartment to single rooms and then to share. Growing numbers are unable to complain to the landlord when the taps stop working or the stove breaks down because they fear that, if they do, they will be evicted.
Domestic and family violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women and children, with one‑third of people accessing social housing reporting such violence. Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women represent only 3.3 per cent of the national population, one-quarter of people in Australia report accessing social housing services due to domestic and family violence. It is also important to recognise the growing trend for people, but particularly women, to become homeless in later life for the first time. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, New South Wales saw an 88 per cent growth in the number of women over the age of 55 years accessing homelessness services.
Homelessness can be the result of a number of factors, including physical and/or mental health issues, unemployment or job loss, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, family and relationship breakdown, domestic violence and lack of affordable housing. Government must provide services to support people in all of these areas and the data would indicate that we are not doing enough. There are some amazing services provided in my area to support the homeless and victims of domestic and family violence—organisations like Jewish House, which provides crises accommodation for those seeking refuge. I must also commend the work of Bayside Women's Refuge, which does an amazing job to provide a safe and secure space for domestic and family violence survivors in south-east Sydney. The shelter provides a supportive environment for all women of any age, sexuality, cultural and linguistic diversity, disability or mental illness. It is a practical service, providing accommodation, food and safe refuge, as well as emotional support to help women rebuild their lives.
I would also like to commend Lou's Place which, as far as I am aware, is the only daytime refuge for women in the area. It is a unique, community-based refuge for women in crisis, homeless women, women feeling isolated or needing support. Lou's Place opened in Kings Cross in April 1999 to provide support for women in need and to help them rebuild their lives. These and many other charities are doing their best in the electorate of Coogee and throughout New South Wales to assist homeless people and victims of domestic violence, but they cannot do it alone and nor should we expect them to. Government has a role to play here and the people of New South Wales expect us to do better than we are doing. Enough is enough. We must stop building roads and bridges to nowhere. Let us build the infrastructure needed to address our social challenges. There are two areas in which it is apparent that this Government is particularly failing the people of New South Wales and, in particular, the most in need of government and community support.