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Shelter SA "determined to survive" after State Govt funding cut

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South Australia’s peak housing group Shelter SA says it will continue operating at a reduced capacity after the State Government announced it would cut the organisation’s funding in October this year.

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InDaily reported in March that the State Government had invited Shelter SA to apply to deliver a new housing service for people experiencing homelessness, but the 42-year-old organisation has since rejected that offer, claiming the proposal “sadly does not appear to provide for an independent voice”.

Currently, the State Government provides funding to Shelter SA and other housing and homelessness support groups to advocate on behalf of people on low incomes and those experiencing homelessness.

That funding will be consolidated in the new financial year with the establishment of a “housing advice, advocacy and engagement service” in October.

That service will receive just over $1 million each year to support people on low incomes to find suitable housing.

According to tender documents, the new service will provide assistance to people facing tenancy issues or those who are financially struggling to find appropriate housing, as well education services to help people to navigate the housing system.

In a letter sent to Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink and Premier Steven Marshall last week, executive director Alice Clark wrote the objectives of the new service do not match the work that Shelter SA is currently equipped to deliver.

She wrote that up to 80 per cent of the proposed work focussed on “direct client services”, whereas Shelter SA primarily dealt with advocacy and research.

“If Shelter SA applied for the tender alone, we could not demonstrate any experience or track record of direct client services,” she wrote in the letter, seen by InDaily.

“We contacted some of our member organisations to explore a partnership approach to the tender, however they are all so busy with the pandemic, they did not have time to look at the tender or consider a partnership.

“Shelter SA is not a specialist homelessness service provider and we remain unclear as to why, as the peak body for housing, we have been included in a reform of the homelessness sector.”

Clark wrote that Shelter SA was in the process of establishing a new business model, “which will enable us to continue its vital work as an independent advocate and voice for those struggling to find a safe place to call home in South Australia”.

“As you can appreciate, the current pandemic environment makes it extremely challenging to establish our new model,” she wrote.

“Initial feedback from our members confirms that many are struggling on multiple fronts and while recognising the importance of our work, are not able to increase their financial contributions now.”

The State Government gave Shelter SA a three and a half-month contract extension beyond June 30 to help it transition away from government support.

But Clark has requested a further contract extension until the end of December.

“Shelter is determined to survive for as long as we can,” she told InDaily.

 “State Government support is the great majority of our funding, so if we do nothing essentially the organisation would have to wind up because our membership fees are very inexpensive.

“Of course, a logical option would be go to our membership and ask for increased fees, but at this time with the pandemic that is completely off the table because they are struggling themselves with having to stand down staff, with food and money donations drying up.” 

Clark said the Shelter SA board was considering “all options” for its new business model, including reducing staff, seeking sponsorships and applying for different government grants.

“I feel as though we’re on the bottom of a very steep hill and we will slowly climb up that hill,” she said.

“It’s unlikely that in the future we will be able to generate enough funds to look as we do now… but we are determined to remain as long as possible to keep the voice of people who need housing alive and doing our advocacy.”

Lensink told InDaily this morning that while the State Government was spending almost $71.5 million on homelessness this year “we are still not seeing the outcomes we need to support our most vulnerable”.  

She said the decision to cut funding from Shelter SA was made following “extensive consultation” with the sector and people who use the system.

“Our focus is on having the best housing and homelessness customer advisory service and Shelter SA was given adequate time and opportunity to put forward a proposal for the new service as part of the tendering process,” she said.

“The reform will focus on prevention and early intervention to break the cycle of homelessness, which is needed now more than ever.”

But opposition human services spokesperson Nat Cook described the move as “poorly timed and badly thought-out”.

“Shelter SA has clearly been put in a position where they couldn’t apply for the whole suite of the tender,” she said.

“Shelter SA, under the stewardship of Alice Clark, have been holding successive governments to account for many years, this government is too scared to hear the truth, that they are failing in housing, failing South Australians.”

The tender process for the new housing service closes on May 7, with the successful applicant to begin work in October.

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