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We know how to solve homelessness in Adelaide: why haven't we?

Opinion

Adelaide can end rough sleeping on its streets – but the community’s leaders need to step up to eliminate barriers to the homeless getting into housing, writes Nonie Brennan.

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While it may seem insurmountable, the issue of homelessness is not only solvable, but we know how to solve it.

It takes a strong goal, it takes strong partnerships, and it takes strong leadership.

On my visit last year, I learned quickly that Adelaide had all of the components necessary to make real change. I learned that Adelaide was willing and prepared to end rough sleeping. Why, then, one year later, are there still 141 people sleeping rough in the city of Adelaide?

It’s time for the city of Adelaide to reduce barriers that keep people on the street, to loosen up the availability of existing affordable housing and to build and strengthen the backbone support for the Adelaide Zero Project. In addition to these measures, the establishment of an emergency fund will keep people housed and to support South Australians in their transition from the streets to permanent housing.

Spending time with an outreach team last year alerted me to the fact that many people sleeping rough had no choice but to stay on the streets as the barriers to shelter and housing were great.

There were no options for couples who wanted to stay together, people with pets, or people with complex needs to get off the street.

I was encouraged to hear that Adelaide Zero Project partners have worked together to recently open lower-barrier accommodation for up to 22 people sleeping rough, including couples and people with pets. Here, they will be supported to stabilise their situation before moving on to long-term housing. To meet the demand, however, more of this type of accommodation is needed.

The next step, of course, is getting people into permanent housing. To achieve that goal, the public, private and community housing providers need to allocate more housing to the Adelaide Zero Project. Sadly, I saw great challenges to this during my last visit.

Getting to functional zero is achievable. We’ve seen it happen in other cities, and we know how to do it.

Last year, I saw incredible work being done by incredible people. I observed how competent, passionate, hardworking, and dedicated the service providers, and the Don Dunstan Foundation, were in building and supporting partnerships to get to “functional zero” (more housing placements available than the number of people sleeping rough). I also saw the difficulty and frustration caused by the lack of resources for backbone support, which is slowing the process in meeting the community’s homelessness goals.

In every community where street homelessness has been reduced, a backbone support organisation like the Dunstan Foundation has been an essential component. Their role is to move the unmovable, to solve the unsolvable, to bring additional resources when needed, and to do it all by engaging with and including all stakeholders. This is no easy task, and it comes with a price tag.

To get to functional zero, Adelaide also needs flexible financial funds. Adelaide needs to keep people housed so they don’t end up on the street in the first place. Services need to move quickly to get people off the street, and support people effectively in their transition from street to home.

The Wilson Sheehan Lab at the University of Notre Dame in the US found that the availability of one-time emergency financial assistance, to help with things like rental assistance, reduces rates of homelessness by 65 per cent. In addition, having funding for housing deposits, and to bring utility arrears current, flexible funding opens the door to getting people into permanent housing. Establishing and building this kind of fund is a necessary step to get Adelaide to functional zero.

Getting to functional zero is achievable. We’ve seen it happen in other cities, and we know how to do it. With the right resources, it can be a reality for Adelaide. We need Adelaide’s elected officials to champion this project in order for it to succeed. Let’s break down the barriers to housing. Let’s build the support infrastructure and create flexible funding to meet the needs of Adelaide’s most vulnerable people.

Let’s work together so that Adelaide will become one of the first cities in the world to eliminate street homelessness.

Dr Nonie Brennan, a former chief executive officer of All Chicago: Making Homelessness History, is Adelaide’s ‘Thinker in Residence’ during November. She has been instrumental in Chicago experiencing a 25 per cent decrease in overall street homelessness.

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