The growing number of Australians sleeping rough will have a better chance of accessing social workers and other support services after a new promise of federal funding.
The multi-million dollar commitment will help keep crucial homeless services running when more people than ever live without a safe place to call home.
Census data released this week showed nearly 123,000 people became homeless in 2021, an increase of 5.2% from 2016, and lower rents have likely increased these numbers over the past two years.
The $67.5 million delivered through the national agreement with states and territories will secure hundreds of homeless support jobs, such as social workers, that would otherwise have been eliminated.
The government had already partially funded the deal, but unions have been campaigning for the extra money to cover the progressive wage increases needed to meet rising costs of living and attract workers to the industry.
Services Union Australia Assistant National Secretary Emeline Gaske said the funding would ensure homeless people could get the help they needed.
“Services and workers are struggling with reports last year that almost 300 people were turned away every day from their services due to insufficient capacity,” he said.
Housing Minister Julie Collins said the new funding was part of the government’s commitment to solving Australia’s worsening housing crisis.
At the center of his game plan is a new fund for the future of housing, which is the subject of ongoing negotiations with the cross-bank before it can be enshrined in legislation.
Labor needs the Greens and two crusading lawmakers to pass the bill, which would result in 30,000 new social housing being built in the first five years, spending up to $500 million each year.
The Greens and several MPs essentially want more ambition from government, with Tasmanian Senator Tammy Tyrrell, a member of the Jacqui Lambie Network, signaling her support if a select few of the 30,000 homes are built in her home state.
Senator Tyrrell said the government would not block Tasmanian homes out of respect for the fund’s “independence”, despite guaranteeing other aspects of its spending, including housing for those fleeing domestic violence and low-income older women. .
“It’s only when it comes to delivering to Tasmania that they say ‘oh no, we couldn’t do that,’” he told parliament on Friday.
Asked if the government would commit more funds to secure MPs’ votes, Ms Collins said the plan was not the only source of support aimed at solving the housing crisis.
“We have done more than our election commitments, the housing deal was not an election commitment, it is a new agreement with the states and territories,” he told ABC’s RN.
Under the deal, the government aims to add one million homes to the nation’s housing stock over five years from 2024.
Ms Collins said the federal government could not solve Australia’s housing problems on its own.
“What we need to do is harness the greatest possible investment at all levels of government and across the sector,” he said.