QUESTION: Funding for housing and homelessness centres

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Human Services about funding for organisations including Shelter SA, the Tenants' Information and Advisory Service, Get-A-Place and the Financial Services Clinic which is uncertain as the Government embarks on a tendering process for customer advisory and engagement services. 


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: One of the most fundamental protections for individuals and the community during this public health emergency is that everyone has a safe and secure place to live. As well as being a basic human right, voluntary or mandatory isolation isn't possible if you don't have a home at all or if you don't know where you are going to be living week to week. With unemployment set to soar to levels not seen since the Great Depression 90 years ago, more South Australians than ever will struggle to afford their rent or mortgage and will be at risk of becoming homeless. It's also clear that housing services and financial counselling services will be under pressure like never before.

Under current government policy, a number of housing and homelessness organisations have been told that they are being defunded. Some may be eligible to reapply for new contracts, but others are likely to close. For example, Shelter SA has reported that they will be defunded after October. They say this has come as a shock to them, and that they have provided advocacy for the housing and homelessness sector, without fear or favour, for the last 43 years.

Also, the future of the Tenants' Information and Advisory Service, Get-A-Place, and the Financial Services Clinic are uncertain from July as the Government embarks on a new tendering process for a consolidated customer advisory and engagement service.

My questions of the Minister are:

1. In the interests of continuity of service delivery in the housing and homelessness sector, will the Government suspend its proposed reform agenda until after the current public health emergency?

2. Will the Government guarantee funding for at least the next 12 months to all existing housing and homelessness services, including Shelter SA, the Tenants' Information and Advisory Service, Get-A-Place, and the Financial Services Clinic?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for his question. In relation to the broad housing and homelessness sector, apart from the ones he mentioned in his question, their contracts have been extended for 12 months. In relation to the particular services he referred to, they were all advised earlier this month that we were looking at starting the first tranche of reforms in the housing and homelessness sector.

If I can just take it back a year or two, we had heard—both in opposition and in government—that there is not really a system. It is fractured, it is broken, it is not effective in terms of rehousing people and housing them effectively, applying early intervention to ensure, effectively, that if somebody is homeless we can rapidly get them into housing. Obviously, that is the most desirable outcome for them.

We see a lot of people who come into the system get referred between providers, who then may end up in homelessness again. There is a significant amount of funding that goes into homelessness in South Australia, in the order of $70 million every year for some 21,000 clients. I think I have been advised by one of my colleagues not to do back of envelope calculations, but it works out to roughly $3,000 per client, bearing in mind that it is not all unique clients. That is a lot of people who are not getting a response—which is to end their homeless situation—for that amount of funding.

We have done an enormous amount of consultation with the sector in terms of what this system needs to be. I think it is fair to say that by and large the sector is very supportive that we start homelessness reform. That is why we brought in Mr Ian Cox, who previously worked for Hutt Street, and it is why a number of us attended the global homelessness conference in Glasgow last year to see what they had done, which was major sector reform where there is much greater emphasis on partnerships and much greater emphasis on lived experience.

If I can turn to the issue of lived experience, this is the most important advice of all. These are the clients. These are the people who experience homelessness, and they have told us that the system isn't working for them. This is a cohort we are obviously quite concerned about at the moment, and I think we would be derelict in our duty if we were to pause this important reform. That is basically saying, 'What you have told us doesn't matter. For the sake of existing services, we are going to allow them to basically continue to support a system which isn't helping you get out of homelessness.'

Those particular services are not being 'defunded': they are being asked to put in tenders for a much more joined-up approach which has lived experience front and centre as we go forward. It is not my intention to pause that in any way. I think the crisis we have demonstrates how this important reform work should have taken place earlier. We have done the important consultation that I think was absolutely necessary to start the process, but we are very keen to ensure that these services are delivering for our most vulnerable.