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Shelter SA faces axe in State Govt housing reform

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South Australia’s peak housing group Shelter SA says the State Government is “silencing the voices of people living on low incomes and experiencing homelessness” by cutting the organisation’s funding in October.

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Shelter SA executive director Alice Clark told InDaily this morning her organisation would lose $380,000 in annual funding at the end of this financial year, following a State Government decision to implement wide reforms to the housing and homelessness sector.

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 new “housing advice, advocacy and engagement service”, which will receive just over $1 million each year to support people on low incomes to find suitable housing.

The decision could see the demise of Shelter SA, which has relied on State Government funding to provide housing support to vulnerable South Australians since 1977.

The State Government has given Shelter SA a three and a half-month contract extension beyond June 30 as it transitions away from government support.

“South Australia will be the only state that has gone in this direction,” Clark said this morning.

“Our colleagues around the country in all the other states and territories are all funded by their state governments and work with them on systems, policy and issues.

“It seems like a backwards step for SA.”

In an email to Shelter SA members this morning, Clark said the State Government notified her organisation of the “heartless and short-sighted” funding cut on March 6.

She said the decision would silence “the voices of people living on low incomes and experiencing homelessness”.

“We are very surprised by this bureaucratic decision – we’ve just successfully completed our performance appraisal with the South Australian Housing Authority and there were no issues of concern when it came to our contract and our key performance indicators,” she wrote.

“We wonder if this is an attempt to silence advocacy on housing in South Australia or punishment for speaking up for vulnerable people, but we will not simply disappear quietly into the night.

“We are asking State Government to reinstate our block funding as soon as possible so that we can support and assist our member organisations who in turn, work at the coalface with people experiencing homelessness and living in poverty, especially at this time of great disruption.”

But Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink rebuked the claims, saying Shelter SA was welcome to apply to deliver the new service as part of a tender process, which closes on May 7.

According to tender documents, the successful applicant would begin work in October providing assistance to people facing tenancy issues or those who are financially struggling to find appropriate housing, as well education and prevention services to help people to navigate the housing system.

The new agency would also provide guidance to the SA Housing Authority and other government departments on housing reform.

“Our focus is on having the best housing and homelessness customer advisory service and Shelter SA has the opportunity to put forward a proposal for the new service as part of the tendering process,” Lensink told InDaily.

“This decision has been made following extensive consultation with the sector and people ensuring the system, who say that it doesn’t work well in its current form.

“The growing impact of the coronavirus further underlines the importance of achieving the best outcomes for the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Clark said Shelter SA was still deciding whether it would apply for the tender.

“Having studied the tender documents (the State Government) is not actually looking for a peak body,” she said.

“They’re calling for a new service – up to 80 per cent of that would be direct client work, which is needed of course and we are very happy to be responsive to new needs in the community, but it is not a tender for a new peak body.

“It’s very narrow (and) what we currently do is systemic advocacy, broad systems work and what’s in the tender is very narrow by comparison.

“I don’t feel we have much chance of winning that tender because it’s so different to what we do that if we sit quietly and apply, and we lose, it’s sort of sour grapes.”

Opposition Human Services spokesperson Nat Cook said she had written to Lensink to call on her to reverse the decision and continue funding housing services during the coronavirus crisis.

“We are in unknown times, we are in a global emergency, continuity of vital housing gateways, financial counselling services, housing advocacy and other services need to remain in place,” she said.

“(Not-for-profit housing group) SYC and Shelter SA provide the vast number of these services and they must remain funded.

“The Marshall Liberal Government needs to stop this length and in-depth tender process immediately, at the very least until we are over the worst of this crisis.”

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