Catholic organisations are firmly at the forefront of an innovative partnership with government and business groups to eliminate homelessness across NSW which is starting to deliver promising results.
The End Street Sleeping Collaboration was first conceived four years ago when Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP brought together Catholic social and health services organisations including St Vincent De Paul, St Vincent’s Health, Catholic Healthcare, the Australian Catholic University and the Mercy Foundation to form a taskforce to come up with a plan to end homelessness in Sydney.
Four years later and its foundation work has motivated the NSW Government to sign an agreement with the Institute of Global Homelessness, along with other partners including Catholic and other faith-based charities, to halve the number of people sleeping rough across NSW by 2025.
With the most recent Census data in 2016 showing 2600 people sleeping on NSW streets, the government believes it is firmly on track to reach the target, having reduced homelessness by 37 percent over the past five years. That translates into more than 1000 people being moved off the street and into housing since March 2017.
“They are more likely to be the victims of violence, with complex health needs and so if we can connect them with the services and support they need, we can effectively prevent them from slipping back into homelessness …”
The Chief Executive Officer of the End Street Sleeping Collaboration and former NSW Labor Government Minister, Graham West credits the progress made to the partnership across community agencies and government which has helped ensure people at risk of long-term homelessness receive the services best tailored to meet their individual needs.
“We target rough sleepers because we know these people sadly die significantly earlier than anybody else. They are more likely to be the victims of violence, with complex health needs and so if we can connect them with the services and support they need, we can effectively prevent them from slipping back into homelessness which is a long term win for everyone”, he explained.
Through the combined resources of government and the welfare agencies, the End Street Sleeping Collaboration is increasingly collecting data on each individual who is homeless to help ensure their specific needs can be met.
The Director of Homelessness and Housing with Vinnies, Mr Brett Macklin said most rough sleepers have been homeless for two years or more and they need to be matched with a comprehensive range of services to help them turn their lives around.
“There is a high level of mental and physical health issues amongst them, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and a lot of that can be exacerbated by violence or experiences of being on the street”, he said.
“We also see high levels of drug and alcohol use and so it’s clear that this is far more significant than just a housing problem alone and it’s more about providing them with the full wrap-around support to get their lives back on track”.
The End Street Sleeping Collaboration is able to harness the resources of government, health and welfare agencies including St Vincent’s Health Australia, the Salvation Army, Catholic Care and Mission Australia to provide the client centred support to help the homeless access the long-term support they need.
The Collaboration also has a strong focus on prevention and Mr West said it works closely with agencies such as St Vincent De Paul to provide targeted support to those most at risk of becoming homeless as well.
“There is a high level of mental and physical health issues amongst them, including schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety and a lot of that can be exacerbated by violence or experiences of being on the street.”
“That might involve identifying a client who is having a real battle to meet their utility bills and rent and looking at ways to support them in better managing their household budget so they don’t end up living on the streets”, he explained.
Sydney is one of 13 vanguard cities around the world which have signed up to dedicated targets through the Institute of Global Homelessness, an organisation formed in 2014 to focus on homelessness as a global phenomenon.
Adelaide has signed up to similar targets, along with major global cities including Chicago, Manchester, Glasgow, Brussels and Santiago.
NSW is unique in being the only vanguard state around the world to set such targets after Premier Gladys Berejiklian made that commitment in 2019.
The research undertaken by the End Street Sleeping Collaboration has uncovered some surprising results, showing homelessness is by no means confined to inner Sydney and is in fact a serious social problem in many regional areas of the state as well.
The prestigious holiday destination of Byron Bay, for example, has a greater incidence of homelessness as a proportion of its population than Parramatta for example, where the disadvantaged can more readily access public housing.
The Director of Commissioning and Planning with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, Penny Church said the current COVID-19 pandemic has led partner agencies in the End Street Sleeping Collaboration to take swift action to protect the homeless from the harmful impact of the virus.
“It’s led to more people coming off the streets and taking shelter in temporary accommodation. We’ve also been able to work with our agencies to provide ready access to vaccination and before that COVID testing for the homeless and those at risk of homeless’, she said.
“They often start off as what could be regarded as ‘couch-surfers’, where there’ll end up having to move around a lot, staying with different family and friends to escape an abusive partner.”
‘The Delta Strain has forced us to act quite quickly to support those in need and help them feel safe in these challenging times”.
Ms Church said some of the most vulnerable members of the community at risk of homelessness are women, often with young children, fleeing domestic and family violence.
“They often start off as what could be regarded as ‘couch-surfers’, where there’ll end up having to move around a lot, staying with different family and friends to escape an abusive partner”, she explained.
“The specialist services we have on offer through the End Street Sleeping Collaboration can then provide women in this situation with the support they need to access more secure housing and turn their lives around”.