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Homeless legal service revived after funding cut closure


A pro bono legal service will begin offering free advice to about 200 South Australians who experience homelessness each year, following a State Government decision to strip the Welfare Rights Centre of funding.

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Earlier this year, InDaily reported the Welfare Rights Centre ceased operating its Housing Legal Clinic in June, after negotiations with the State Government failed to provide assurance of future funding.

The funding cut meant the 30-year-old community centre was forced to scale-back its operations, leaving people experiencing homelessness in Adelaide without access to free legal advice to help them settle credit and debt disputes, tenancy issues and some criminal matters.

At the time, Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink argued the decision to cut funding was based on “long-standing performance issues” and reluctance from the Welfare Rights Centre to address the Government’s concerns.

Last night, JusticeNet SA – a not-for-profit legal organisation for disadvantaged South Australians – launched a replacement service for clients of the Hutt Street Centre and Catherine House.

The service, called Homeless Legal, is set to begin operating next month and is funded through donations from legal firm Lipman Karas, philanthropic organisation the Day Family Foundation, and 12 “founding ambassadors”, who have each pledged to contribute $2500 every year for the next four years.

Initially, about 200 people experiencing homelessness are anticipated to benefit from Homeless Legal, which will be staffed by a team of between 20 to 30 volunteer lawyers from firms Dentons Fisher Jeffries and MinterEllison.

“We went out and spoke to the homeless centres and shelters that were participating in the Housing Legal Clinic and they told us that it was a real disappointment that the service wasn’t continuing, that their clients missed having that service there,” JusticeNet executive director Tim Graham told InDaily.  

“They were very supportive of our efforts to continue it or replace it.”

Julia Dreosti from Lipman Karas, JusticeNet SA executive director Tim Graham, Sophie Doyle from Philanthropy Australia and Josh Simons from Thomson Geer at last night’s Homeless Legal launch. Photo: Supplied

Graham said the service would cost “at an absolute minimum” about $30,000 each year, with that cost set to grow as the service looks to launch additional outreach centres at Anglicare SA’s Magdalene Centre, Port Adelaide and across regional South Australia.

He said he had written to Lensink earlier this month informing her of JusticeNet’s decision to launch a replacement homeless legal service, but had not requested State Government funding.

“To be perfectly honest we had to move quickly to capture the experience of the volunteers that were involved in the (Housing Legal Clinic) service,” Graham said.

“We’re also very conscious that the State Government has just made a decision to defund the predecessor service.

“What we’ve done is written to State Government saying, ‘this is what we’re doing and we’d like to tell you about it, we’d like to know what went wrong with the service before, what motivated their decision to defund it and what can we do going forward to work with you and secure funding going forward’.”

In August, InDaily reported JusticeNet was forced to shut its State Courts Self-Representation Service for disadvantaged South Australians following a State Government funding cut.

The organisation estimated it required just $65,000 in annual government assistance to continue running the service.

Graham said this morning that while JusticeNet was open to relaunching the service, limited funding meant that was unlikely to happen “in the near future”.

“It was difficult timing for us because pretty much at the same time (of the self-representation service shutting) we were looking at the question of what do we do to fill the gap of people experiencing homelessness,” he said.

“It just so happens that we were able to secure funding and support for reviving the outreach for people experiencing homelessness.

“We’d like to do what we can but at this point of time with our limited resources we just need to focus on those projects which we know we can fund and deliver sustainably.”

Funding cuts under the former Weatherill Government meant Welfare Rights Centre was also forced to cease its free legal services for people on Centrelink payments and those in danger of being evicted from their properties.

But University of Adelaide final year law students have stepped in, volunteering their time as part of a recently-formed legal clinic, which is run out of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal one day a week.

Uniting Communities has also been funded by the State Government to meet the demand.

It comes as the State Government looks to finalise its Housing and Homelessness Strategy, which is due to be released by the end of the year.

Graham said he thought the strategy would have a “positive impact” on the sector.

“That’s part of my motivation writing to the Minister and keeping them in the loop,” he said.

“I think that any attention on the vexed issue of homelessness is a good thing and I look forward to seeing the strategy and feeding into it such as we can.”

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