Homelessness

A few months ago he invited me for dinner at the refuge. Every man there has a different story. Some have chronic gambling problems. Others have just been released from Villawood detention centre and cannot work while they are awaiting determination of their cases. One young man I met has a job in the city at a call centre and was living there for a few weeks to save up enough money for a rental bond. I asked Clem what was wrong with the current system. He told me it was a lack of funding, a lack of housing, a lack of staff and a lack of care.

That is why last Friday I convened a roundtable to talk about the government's green paper Which way home? A new approach to homelessness. You get a better understanding of the problem by talking to people at the coalface rather than just reading a report. Amongst those who attended were two local residents, Heather Brown and Sharon Matthews. Heather is one of life's angels. She has been feeding homeless people and taking them into her home for decades. She does not belong to any organisation. She just does this because she wants to help, out of the goodness of her heart. Sharon came along because earlier this year she experienced the terror of almost being homeless herself. She struggled with government departments, staff and procedures and was one day away from being on the street when she found help. Heather and Sharon came along because they saw a notice in the local newspaper and because they wanted to be part of the solution.

Also at the roundtable were Amy Cabigio, of the Chester Hill Neighbourhood Centre; Clem McNamara, of St Jude's; Wafa Zaim, of the Muslim Women's Support Service Refuge; Bill Peet, from Nick Kerns House; Cassy Pace, from Wruwallin House; Carla and son, from Open Family Australia; and Mark Hankin, from Our House Youth Accommodation. They are all people who have dedicated decades to helping the homeless. We thrashed out the issues and the options in the green paper and came up with our own, an amalgam of options 2 and 3. We talked about the lack of crisis and transitional accommodation, particularly in the rental market; the duplication of services; the benefits of co-case management to build trust and make sure people do not fall through the cracks in the system; and accreditation, administration, reporting and funding issues. We agreed you need a roof over your head before you can think about anything else. But a lot more than that is needed to get people back on their feet and stop the cycle of homelessness. This week we will submit our ideas to the Minister for Housing and in September we will get back together to review the government's white paper. I think we owe that to the homeless people of my local community.'