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Govt says homeless service handover won't cut beds

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The State Government insists there will be no loss of crisis beds when a new homelessness alliance for the CBD takes over tomorrow, as a new services group reveals it will provide 96 crisis beds after striking a temporary agreement with losing tenderer Vinnies SA.

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Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink in April announced sector-wide changes to South Australia’s homelessness services, with four regional “alliances” of service providers winning tenders to provide crisis accommodation in their respective regions from July 1 alongside one specialised family and domestic violence group.

But the changes – which were spearheaded by a former Hutt Street Centre CEO – attracted significant criticism, as Vinnies SA, Catherine House and the Hutt Street Centre all saw $1.2 million cut from their 2021-22 budget after they lost out in the competitive tender process.

Instead, a coalition of six groups led by Lutheran Care won the contract worth $30,989,300 over two years to provide homelessness services for the Adelaide CBD, the eastern suburbs, Prospect, the Adelaide Hills and Onkaparinga among other inner suburban areas.

The specifications of the tender state: “The (South Australian Housing) Authority intends that the number of beds/accommodation available to sector clients be maintained”.

A spokesperson for Lutheran Care told InDaily their “Toward Home” alliance will provide “a minimum of 96 crisis beds across the Adelaide CBD and Southern region” and the “amount of crisis beds available in the region remains unchanged”.

According to tender documents from the Housing Authority, the number of crisis beds provided in the Adelaide South region this year is 116, but InDaily understands the agency has revised this number down to 95 believing 116 to be an error.

Lensink today told ABC Radio that questions about the alliance’s provision of crisis beds should be directed towards Lutheran Care CEO Rohan Feegrade, but in a statement to InDaily Lensink said “from July 1, there will be no loss of crisis beds in the Adelaide South region”.

“Under the reforms, homelessness funding is increasing and our most vulnerable will continue to get the help they need, but we unashamedly want better, long-term outcomes so people stop cycling in and out of the system,” Lensink said.

“Any accusation that our most vulnerable South Australians experiencing homelessness will not have access to services, including crisis accommodation and support, is blatant fearmongering.”

InDaily understands the unsuccessful tender for the Adelaide South region proposed to fund 106 crisis beds.

Lensink’s office declined to comment on whether the Housing Authority had awarded the tender to an alliance which proposed to fund fewer beds.

It comes after the winning alliance on Monday reached a temporary six-week agreement to subcontract 40 crisis beds – more than a third of the alliance’s offering – from the Whitmore Square men’s crisis accommodation centre run by Vinnies SA.

Lutheran Care also says they now have agreements in place with Aboriginal Family Support Services and Catherine House who were both part of the losing tender.

Shadow Human Services Minister Nat Cook said the alliance’s “11th-hour” arrangement with Vinnies show the “crisis is simply being kicked down the road for a few weeks so that the whole new system doesn’t fall off a cliff” tomorrow.

“The Minister who has stated more than once that ‘there is no loss of crisis beds’ when this, in fact, was the case until the 11th hour,” Cook said.

“Good organisations in both camps (winning and losing tenders) have lost staff and spent the last two months scrambling to meet needs and negotiate when they could have been providing support and outcome pathways for clients that need it.”

Vinnies CEO Louise Miller Frost – who stated that the existing number of beds in the Adelaide CBD is 116 – said she does not know what the model is going forward.

“All I know is that we’ve had six weeks of funding, and really the rest of it is they need to tell us,” Frost told ABC Radio.

“We don’t have the answers we don’t know what the model is.”

Lutheran Care said existing crisis accommodation services will remain in place which, along with transition, responsive and supported housing options, will “provide choice and options for people to stay connected to their community when safe and appropriate to do so”.

“Existing crisis accommodation services will remain in place as part of agreements formed between [the] Toward Home [alliance] and these service providers,” the Lutheran Care spokesperson said.

“From Thursday 1 July, anyone experiencing or at risk of homelessness, can access support by contacting Toward Home on 1800 809 273, by visiting WestCare Centre (11-13 Millers Ct, Adelaide) or visiting one of our Alliance partner sites (Aboriginal Community Services, Baptist Care SA, Lutheran Care, Mission Australia, Sonder and The Salvation Army).”

Meanwhile, Hutt Street Centre CEO Chris Burns this morning said the $1.2 million funding cut will spell the end for the organisation’s crisis intervention case management services.

“Our wellbeing centre will remain open providing primary care services – that’s the meals the showers, the nurse, all the visiting services – because that is solely funded by the generosity of South Australians through donations,” Burns told ABC Radio.

“What ceases today is the next step in the process which is our crisis intervention case management service – the funding for that from the State Government ceases today.”

With only one day left before the new alliance takes over responsibility, Burns said he is still in negotiations with the new alliance as to what arrangements will be in place on July 1.

Lutheran Care told InDaily it has reached “in-principle agreement to work to provide Toward Home services collaboratively with Hutt St Centre”.

The new homelessness services model is due to run until June 20, 2023, after which it will be assessed for two-year renewal.

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