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Council for Homeless Persons Conference speech



Thank you very much John for the kind introduction.

And to begin, I would like to acknowledge the first peoples and traditional owners of this land, the people of the Kulin Nation.

I pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and to all Elders from other communities who may be here today, representatives of the world’s longest continuing culture.

There are many friends in the audience – can I take this opportunity to acknowledge –

Jenny Smith, CEO Council to Homeless Persons

John Blewonski, Chair of Council to Homeless Persons

Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, Trinity College Dublin.

Dr Guy Johnson, Inaugural Professor of Homelessness, RMIT

I am pleased to be attending this bi-annual conference once again.

The past year has been unprecedented for high profile, often negative media coverage of homelessness, in particular those sleeping rough in the centre of Melbourne.

As we’ve seen successive front pages featuring the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our Victorian community.

We’ve seen the tale of multiple cities – with some communities expressing a willingness to support/do their bit for homeless people – just not in their town – and we’ve seen suburbs put their hands up and say – what can I do and how can I help.

A flagship program on SBS whereby a privileged few spent time walking in the shoes of homeless Victorians in order to confront their own preconceptions and prejudices about homelessness as a ‘lifestyle choice’.

I’m always for healthy debate – but this has often been a conversation full of myths and misconceptions about the reasons for and responses to homelessness. However it is simply not good enough to say ‘it’s complex’ or ‘it’s their own fault’.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Professor Eoin O’Sullivan the conferences keynote speaker – who has been doing a range of media this week – where he tells the success stories of countries like Finland – who worked out the solutions to homelessness are not that complex – but it starts with housing first.

And I think we are starting to move in the right direction – and we’re moving because we (being Government) know we can’t tackle this challenge alone – we must partner with the sector and those affected, to try and shift the dial on this National problem – but one for which a solution must be found, through a continual dedication to innovation, evidence based approaches and outcomes for people.

That partnership is starting to show some life changing results.

But the work doesn’t stop.

We’ve put a record investment on the table – $800 million and $2.1 billion in financial backing – with a lot of that money already out the door – or beginning to roll.

With a big challenge, it’s about how we ensure we get the best use of taxpayers dollar – by being able to help more people.

Our flagship statement of affordability, access and choice is Homes for Victorians.

In terms of improving housing services for Victorians in need, Homes for Victorians encompassed a diverse range of initiatives within the:

  • $152 million Family Violence Housing Blitz
  • $109 million homelessness investment package incorporating
  • $10 million Towards Home rough sleeping package
  • Increasing and renewing social housing stock

Through programs such as Accommodation for the Homeless, Private Rental Access Program, the Rapid Housing Assistance Program and the Community Rooming House Upgrades Program we are sharply focused on expanding capacity, increasing access and improving amenity of housing options across a diverse range of tenures.

This is driving capital and support responses across public and social housing, community rooming houses, crisis supported accommodation, and the private rental market.

The Towards Home initiative in response to the rough sleeping crisis that was all too visible since early in 2016. Towards Home provides for:

  1. Prioritised access to 40 transitional housing units for people sleeping rough
  2. 30 modular relocatable homes on public land in five locations across metropolitan Melbourne – through this process we are looking to connect former rough sleepers with areas of familiarity to provide them with the social and family connections important to getting people back on their feet.
  3. 40 individualised two year packages for personal and tenancy support
  4. One of our leaders in helping vulnerable people – Tony Nicholson of Brotherhood of St Laurence, was appointed to lead the development of a rough sleeping strategy, who is due to report to me on this strategy in October this year.

We will see residents moving in to our modular home site in Preston in the coming weeks – whilst other sites have seen plenty of discussion.

We’ve seen global examples but the way to deal with homelessness is housing – and we all have a role to play to providing housing.

We make no apology for looking outside the square to house Victorians in need – and during those few days of debate – there were two things that restored my faith in humanity:

  • The same week one of our newspapers was outraged over our proposal to house 5 people on vacant land in one of our affluent suburbs – we held an information session for another site in another suburb where we had only two people show up – both asking how they could provide support – some could say it is the tale of two cities.
  • As some of the opponents to this proposal called talkback radio – the public response to their outrage didn’t emulate this opposition – it was people recognising that we need to do more – that we have a responsibility – and that we can’t assume the sky is about to fall in by giving a homeless person a house.

We know that people experiencing homelessness just want to get on with their lives and to lead happy and productive lives like everyone else – and we’d expect communities to welcome this.

Victoria, like the rest of the nation, has experienced unprecedented levels of housing stress and homelessness – the path forward to end this crisis is to provide a range of housing options, including ordinary homes in ordinary communities and the support to deal with the past or current trauma in people’s lives.

We make no apology for asking everyone to play their part and we will continue to look to those innovative solutions to house more Victorians.

Some of those next steps are coming out of the work that Tony Nicholson is leading – he has done a lot of work – with many of you – and will soon provide recommendations to Government on a rough sleeping strategy.

From his initial work – there are some key themes that are emerging:

  1. The need to intervene earlier and more rapidly to reduce the risk of people becoming homeless and sleeping rough.

We know that rough sleeping in regional areas can often be a hidden problem – particularly in suburban and regional areas – with people sleeping in cars, sheds, shacks or garages.

What we also know is that if we don’t intervene early, that many rough sleepers from regional areas may drift into metropolitan areas for support.

  1. Establish dedicated pathways to permanent housing for people sleeping rough and who are at risk of homelessness and provide ongoing support tailored to individual needs and circumstances

We have long learnt that it’s not enough to provide someone with a home, turn on the TV and say see you later without providing them the ongoing support that can help them get back on their feet and maintain that home.

  1. Take a multi-disciplinary approach to ensure vulnerable individuals with multiple and complex issues receive more effective and timely support; and
  2. Coordinate effort to ensure a consistent and appropriate response to rough sleeping at both a local and statewide level.

This is about how we bring the voluntary and philanthropic sector along with us, whilst recognising that there is an incumbency on us all to maintain a professional approach that has accountability, boundaries and standards of conduct.

I want to say thank you again to Tony and everyone who has fed into this process – we look forward to receiving the recommendations and we will come back to you with our response – also bearing in mind how we can build on the lessons learned from coordination efforts in the CBD.

With over 35,000 people on the waiting list – we know we have a long way to go.  That number is still high – because we know of the damage that has been caused and the dispiriting neglect this issue has faced.  Even today we are still seeing proposals from the Commonwealth that might feed the news cycle – but beyond that – only leave people at risk of spiralling in to greatest homelessness.

We should also spare a thought for our friend Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army who is putting his legs on the line to walk to Canberra for a national plan – a much needed plan.

We will continue to call on the Prime Minister to come to the table, to show leadership to commit to a long term plan – not just to deal with homelessness but the contributing factors that cause homelessness.

Can I thank you again for your combined efforts, and I’m happy to take a few questions.


Spoken at Melbourne Town Hall