The City of Sydney has found more people sleeping rough on inner-city streets this summer, with too little support for those who need it most.
The street count found 277 people sleeping rough in the local area, up from 225 in February last year, an increase of 23 per cent.
Crisis and temporary accommodation beds were almost at capacity, sitting at 93 per cent occupancy, following a significant decrease in the number of reported available beds in recent years.
About 100 volunteers took to the streets to carry out the street count in the early hours of Tuesday 21 February 2023, including people who have experienced homelessness themselves.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore called on the newly elected State Government to make ending homelessness a priority.
“These figures won’t go down unless we tackle the causes of homelessness,” Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore said.
“The pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing inequality and highlighted how precarious access to housing, food and financial support is for many,” the Lord Mayor said.
“But it also showed that with the right political will, governments can find the money, resources and urgency to address some of the biggest challenges our vulnerable communities face.
“When the city went into lockdown, people sleeping rough were rushed into temporary accommodation and many were then supported into longer term housing.
“We now have nearly 300 people sleeping on city streets each night, with much of the extra help available through the pandemic now dried up or discontinued, with non-residents back to not being able to access any support at all.
“We know the cost of living is a real issue in Sydney and the pandemic has further widened the inequality gap. We want the level of funding and urgency for housing options and support services made available during the pandemic to return, to ensure a roof is available for people who would otherwise be on the streets. If not, we will see this figure climb again.”
While housing and homelessness is the responsibility of the NSW Government, the City of Sydney was the first council in Australia with a dedicated homelessness unit and has been assisting people sleeping rough in the inner city for over 30 years. Every day the City of Sydney’s public space liaison officers walk the streets to help link people sleeping rough with the services they need.
The City of Sydney also invests more than $2.2 million each financial year to reduce homelessness and its impacts, including $1.33m million for external specialist homelessness services in the local area.
Running since 2010, the street count helps the City of Sydney and its partners develop responses to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in the local area.
Homelessness NSW CEO Trina Jones said investment was needed in social housing and in homelessness services.
“We urge the NSW Government to guarantee continued funding for the Together Home program which has achieved strong results in helping people who are sleeping rough into stable accommodation with critical wrap around services,” Ms Jones said.
“The Together Home program has been highly successful in transitioning people from rough sleeping into a home. But just as importantly it is keeping them in those homes because the wrap around services offered as part of the program help to prevent people returning to the streets. This program was initially funded during the pandemic, but we now need a commitment from Government for ongoing funding – at $25 million per year this is a relatively modest but important investment.
“Homelessness does not have to be a problem that only gets worse and programs like Together Home can make such a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable people in the community.”
Ms Jones said investment in social housing was the other vital piece of the puzzle.
“We cannot solve homelessness without more housing, it’s that simple. The challenge right now is even greater due to the rising cost of living, low wages and a dire shortage of affordable rental homes making homelessness a reality for more people,” Ms Jones said.
The Lord Mayor said more social and affordable housing in the inner city is needed to prevent people slipping through the cracks.
“The City is doing everything it can to generate more affordable housing in our local area. We have introduced planning and development agreements, land rezoning and transfers, affordable housing levies and a dedicated fund to support the development of permanent affordable and diverse housing,” the Lord Mayor said.
“But the lack of ambition shown in the State’s major housing projects is disappointing. The former Government’s proposed redevelopment of Waterloo Estate sees just 100 more social housing homes than what is there now.
“This is a missed opportunity for such a significant site. With more than 57,000 people on the waitlist for social housing in NSW, this site should be 100 per cent social and affordable housing. At a minimum, the incoming Government should commit to 30 per cent social housing and 20 per cent affordable housing, with more housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people given their long connections to this area.
“This would go some way to meeting the critical need for social and affordable housing in the inner city.”
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