Community services are pressing for continued action on homelessness in Canberra following the release of 2016 ABS Census figures today which point to a fall in the overall rate of homelessness but highlight the continued demand for support services as well as people continuing to sleeping rough in the ACT.
Susan Helyar, Director of the ACT Council of Social Service, cautiously welcomed a fall in the overall rate but stressed the need to ensure that services can adequately respond.
“Today’s figures warrant further analysis but they contain some welcome news and we’d be pleased to see the numbers continue to fall.
“However, they also show that the ACT has the second highest number of people using homelessness support in Australia and this remains a concern when we hear persistent reports that those services are unable to adequately respond to need.
“None of us should imagine our job is done when we continue to hear from people on the precipice of homelessness due to a critical lack of affordable housing and appropriate built form . We know from the Anglicare Rental Affordability Snapshot that our private rental market continues to lock out most people on low incomes or on minimum wages .
“The ACT’s Affordable Housing Strategy will need to respond to these issues and the underlying factors which cause homelessness by creating more housing supply which is affordable and accessible to people in the lower income quintiles.
“There is an increase in homelessness across Australia of 13.7% since 2011. This points to a need for Commonwealth investments in national partnerships as well as addressing adequacy of income support payments, especially Newstart, which is too low to cover basic living costs,” Ms Helyar said.
The data also shows people continue to sleep rough in Canberra. While the trends warrant further analysis, the Census figures indicate there were 54 rough sleepers in 2016 – an increase from the previous number in 2011.
According to Matt Davies, the ACT Manager for Red Cross, "Australian Red Cross has experienced continuing levels of need from people sleeping rough and those finding it hard to navigate their ways through the highly competitive housing market in Canberra. We need to keep working together to build the protective factors that keep people safe and secure. Canberrans care for each other really well and none of us want to see anyone in our community experience homelessness."
Neil Skipper, spokesperson for ACT Shelter, concluded that, “The presence of rough sleepers is a travesty in a city like Canberra. No one should need to sleep rough in a city like Canberra with our freezing winters and hot summers.
“The community knows what needs to be done in the ACT to eliminate homelessness. The level of funding to ACT crisis and support services should match the need. We should require all directorates to contribute funding and report on their impact on homelessness support services.
“We should grow supply of social housing in line with population growth. Any planning reform that is undertaken needs to improve housing affordability.
“Finally, we are calling for a significant investment to build housing that is affordable, accessible and offers secure tenancies to low income households,” Mr Skipper said.
For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200, or
Neil Skipper, ACT Shelter on 0428 208 896.
 ACTCOSS & ACT Shelter, Stories of Home, 2016, <https://www.actcoss.org.au/publications/advocacy-publications/stories-home>.
 Anglicare Australia, Rental Affordability Snapshot 2017, 2017, <http://www.anglicare.asn.au/research-reports/the-rental-affordability-snapshot>.