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Question: Overrepresentation of First Nations People Experiencing Homelessness

23 March 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, on the topic of homelessness.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data on homelessness was released, which demonstrated that homelessness in South Australia increased by 1,200 people between the years 2016 and 2021. The data from the 2021 Census shows that First Nations people are over-represented, comprising 20.4 per cent of homeless people, while making up 3.8 per cent of the population in South Australia.

South Australia is the state with the third highest rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing homelessness. My question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs therefore is: what is the government doing to prevent homelessness in South Australia and, in particular, what is it doing to reduce the number of First Nations people who experience homelessness in our state?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his very important question. I did see it reported that the figures from the last Census, comparing 2016 to a snapshot in time five years afterwards in 2021, were released with some concerning figures in relation to homelessness.

Certainly, it is the case that so much of how we interact with society and how we thrive in society stems from homelessness—it is one of those foundational tenet needs, without which many of the other areas in which we see people face disadvantage, and particularly Aboriginal people who face disadvantage, stems from, whether it be health, education, life expectancy or economic participation. Without that foundational need catered for in terms of a place to live, it is difficult in so many other areas.

In terms of specific programs to counter homelessness, I will have to refer the substance of that on to the Minister for Human Services, the Hon. Nat Cook, in another place. I know there have been some slight improvements in some areas. The Closing the Gap report was only handed down recently, and one of the areas looked at—I think it was outcome area 9—the proportion of Aboriginal people in South Australia living in appropriately-sized housing was one of the areas in which South Australia had made improvements.

That doesn't mean there is not a long way to go and we don't need to do more, but that was one improvement from the last Closing the Gap report. I know that some of the many programs—and there are quite a number—the Hon. Nat Cook, the Minister for Human Services, has put in place. I will talk to her and bring back a reply for the honourable member.


30 May 2023

Additional answer received


In reply to the Hon. R.A. SIMMS ().23 March 2023).

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): The Minister for Human Services has advised:

Preventing homelessness, or helping people to exit homelessness, requires action across the housing market. At the 2022 election, Labor recognised the challenges faced by too many people in the housing market and committed an extra $177.5 million for public housing. This funding was designed to deliver 400 extra new homes (later increased to 437), upgrade 350 vacant properties so they could be homes again for people in need, and do extra maintenance on 3,000 further homes. We also committed an additional $6 million to homelessness services in the Adelaide CBD including the Hutt Street Centre, St Vincent de Paul and Catherine House.

Following the election, we recognised that more action was needed and we recently announced comprehensive reforms, including:

Another $55.2 million for 127 new public housing properties, bringing our total additional investment to $232.7 million from 2022 to 2026 to build 564 new homes. This will be the first proper increase in public housing since 1993.

Stopping the planned sale of 580 public housing properties.

The single largest release of residential land in the state's history to support 23,700 homes in Dry Creek, Concordia, Hackham, and Sellicks Beach.

Establishing the Office for Regional Housing in Renewal SA.

Doubling the length of time that affordable homes are listed exclusively for low and moderate income buyers on HomeSeeker SA from 30 to 60 days.

Expanding the Private Rental Assistance Program by lifting the maximum weekly rent for a home from $450 to $600 and increasing the asset limit from $5,000 to $62,150 so that more people can get help with bond and rent in advance.

Changing the threshold for private rental bonds for the first time since 1994. For 29 years, once weekly rent was $250 or more then bonds could be six weeks' rent instead of four. This threshold has now increased to $800.

Expanding low deposit loans through HomeStart Finance.

Partnering with the new federal Labor government on the $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund and Housing Accord that, together, will support 50,000 social and affordable homes around Australia over five years from mid-2024.

Reviewing the Residential Tenancies Act 1995 with more than 5,000 responses and submissions received and moving legislation on priority reforms, including:

Banning rent bidding so rental properties can no longer be advertised with a rent range or put up for a rent auction. Agents will be banned from soliciting offers above the advertised price;

Stronger protections of tenancy information by requiring its destruction after a prescribed period;

Prohibiting seeking of prescribed information to minimise discrimination against tenants; and

Prohibiting third parties from charging fees related to rental applications.

This work is in addition to ongoing programs and services, including:

The provision or oversight of approximately 46,000 social housing properties covering public housing, state owned and managed Indigenous housing, community housing and remote housing.

The Emergency Accommodation Program, costing approximately $11 million per annum, to provide last resort motel accommodation for between 150 and 200 households per night.

Funding statewide Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) totalling approximately $72 million per annum.

With regard to First Nations people in particular, responses are provided via mainstream and targeted services.

Out of approximately 52,000 people who reside in around 33,000 public and Aboriginal housing properties in SA, more than 12,000 are Aboriginal—along with nearly a quarter of those who access SHS. This reflects both a disproportionate demand for these services by Aboriginal people but also a disproportionate benefit to Aboriginal people by making additional investments.

Within SHS, key priorities include: decision-making is culturally informed; homelessness services are culturally informed and person-centred; service reform of exit pathways from institutions and care reduces First Nations over-representation in the system; and crisis and transitional housing meet the needs of First Nations peoples.

The Wali Wiru (Good Homes) program was established by the SA Housing Authority in 2020 as a long-term strategy to support Aboriginal tenants to maintain successful tenancies and to reduce reports of antisocial activities that could place tenancies at risk. The Wali Wiru team specialises in working with remote Aboriginal people from APY, WA and NT communities who are first language speakers. The team has expanded and now consists of one program manager, two tenancy practitioners and two housing officers. All members of the team have extensive lived and/or work experience with remote Aboriginal people.

The Wali Wiru program aims to provide a level of service that is more intensive and has the ability to respond and escalate where needed. Wali Wiru also work closely with the Department of Human Services' Assertive Outreach Team (who are able to provide additional tenancy support or assistance with return to Country), the Exceptional Needs Unit, NDIS, health and education providers. This complements Wali Wiru's aim of remote Aboriginal people achieving self-determination.

In addition to work by the SA Housing Authority, the Department of Human Services operates an Assertive Outreach Team to work with people from remote communities while they are in Adelaide or regional centres. This service links multiple government agencies and community organisations across health, justice and housing to address a range of community needs.

More recently, the Port Augusta Community Outreach service was established in November 2022. This is supported by funding of $1.2 million over four years and works with people from remote communities, as well as Port Augusta residents, to create a safer community by linking people to support, helping people return home where appropriate and providing a single point of contact for those who need help or have concerns.