It’s time for action on homelessness

116,000 Australians.

It’s more than the number of Australians who fill the MCG on Grand Final day.

It’s more than the number of Australians who were at the Olympic Stadium when Cathy Freeman won gold in 2000.

Sadly, 116,000 is also the number of Australians who on Census night in 2016 were homeless.

This is a shocking figure. It is a figure that should shame us as a wealthy, prosperous nation.

As we mark Homelessness Week, it is a figure that must force action to address the challenges facing Australians who are homeless.

Homelessness can take many forms, whether it’s sleeping rough, couch surfing, or even living in your car.

Behind the shocking figures are the stories of thousands of vulnerable Australians who don’t have a roof over their head.

Despite the best intentions of many, as a nation we have not made significant progress in reducing the number of Australians who are homeless.

Figures from the 2021 Census on homelessness released next year are sadly likely to show an increase in the number of Australians who are homeless.

This year’s Homelessness Week theme is ‘to end homelessness we need a plan’ and at the centre of the new Albanese Government’s housing reform agenda is a commitment to introduce a National Housing and Homelessness Plan.

The new Plan will set out the key short, medium and longer term reforms needed to improve housing and homelessness outcomes.

This is a critical commitment and the Government is not wasting a day in developing the new plan.

Last month I had the opportunity to meet with Housing Ministers from across the country to discuss the Albanese Government’s reform agenda and begin work on a Plan.

It was the first meeting of Housing Ministers in almost five years and I was very encouraged by the discussions we had.

Together, Ministers from around the country acknowledged the serious challenges we face in addressing homelessness and housing affordability, but importantly there was also a clear agreement to work together to confront this challenge.

Achieving collaboration on this issue is not an exercise in ticking a box. It will be a central feature of effecting meaningful change.

But given the scale of the problem facing us, what we don’t need is another meaningless talkfest.

So the Albanese Government has already started work on important elements that will form part of the Plan.

The Government will introduce legislation to Parliament to enact the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund that will build 30,000 social and affordable homes within its first five years.

The initial returns from the fund will focus on several at risk groups.

Recognising that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women, the fund will deliver $100 million for crisis and transitional housing options for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence and older women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.

The fund will provide $200 million for the repair, maintenance and improvements of housing in remote Indigenous communities. 

$30 million from the Fund will build more housing and fund specialist services for veterans who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Good leadership starts from the top and the Prime Minister’s deep personal connection to this issue means Australia finally has a Government in Canberra showing leadership and a strong focus on ensuring more Australians have a safe place to call home.

It’s one of the reasons the portfolios of Housing and Homelessness have been once again been elevated to Cabinet.

As we mark Homelessness Week we cannot lose sight of the 116,000 Australians who are homeless.

For me the people behind this shameful figure informs the energy and commitment I bring every day to the job of being Minister for Homelessness.