Sector News — 16 July 2014

The Victorian Government should urgently reinstate mental health funding to housing and homelessness agencies in Melbourne, according to homelessness services Not for Profit Homeground, following reports of a significant increase in the number of people sleeping rough in the city.

The latest City of Melbourne StreetCount has revealed a 40 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in the CBD in the past two years.

The 2014 StreetCount identified 142 people sleeping rough in and around the City of Melbourne; the highest result since the inception of the count in 2008. HomeGround CEO Dr Heather Holst said key agencies in Melbourne recently lost millions of dollars in funding as a result of the retendering of State mental health funding.

“The retender didn’t consider the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised who are represented in the StreetCount,” she said. “A 40 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping rough in the CBD is a very good reason to reinstate funding that will allow agencies like HomeGround to continue to reach out and assist people into stable housing.”

Dr Holst said mental health funding has been redirected, in the main, to large mainstream service providers covering larger geographic areas as a result of the re-tender process. bigstockphoto_Sad_Woman_552129[1]

“We work with extremely vulnerable and marginalised people who often find it difficult to engage with mainstream services,” she said. “Our workers seek people out and build sustainable relationships that are successful in helping them address complex health and social issues and ultimately find stable housing.”

The mental health retender has left a number of service providers such as HomeGround, St Mary’s House of Welcome, Jesuit Social Services, McAuley Services for Women and Bethlehem Community, with reduced or no capacity to provide appropriate support to those most in need.

“The people represented in the StreetCount are among those who require flexible service delivery and outreach support. They often don’t have the ability or resources to attend mainstream services or to persist long enough to get the service they need,” she said. “Cutting programs that were responsive and effective doesn’t make sense – it is an injustice and will ultimately place further strain on the justice system and emergency departments.”

The StreetCount 2014 report is available on the City of Melbourne website. Some key points from the StreetCount 2014 report include:

• At least 140 homeless people sleep rough in and around the City of Melbourne. This group of people is predominantly single, male, and Australian born;

• On average, 33 per cent of those recorded in StreetCount have been homeless for more than five years and many for more than ten years. This suggests the presence of a group of at least 40 to 50 long-term homeless single men who sleep in and around the inner city;

• About one third of the people counted, sleep openly on the street and another quarter in squats. Most people record sleeping in a wide variety of ‘other’ locations including train stations, public toilets, car parks and building foyers;

• Most people sleep in one place or move between two or three places over the period of a month. There is a smaller group of people who tend to move around between more places;

• Most (around three quarters) of the group are in touch with the service system, but mainly for ‘subsistence’ services such as meals and emergency relief centres. This suggests that this group might use the service system for survival, but not as a ‘pathway’ out homelessness; • Most (almost two thirds) are not on the public housing waiting list, and half of those that are have been on the list for over two years.

HomeGround Services were contracted to organise and deliver the count, including sourcing, training and supporting volunteers, engaging agencies and developing and distributing collateral. HomeGround Services was also contracted to collate, analyse and report on the data collected in the count.

This article first appeared on ‘Pro Bono News’ on 15 July 2014.

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