The State Government have introduced the biggest shake-up to homelessness services in over 10 years. Source: Jon Tyson from Unsplash.
  • Reallocated funding to an alliance delivering homelessness services
  • Some advocacy groups are not happy with the reforms amid budget cuts to some services
  • The State Government insists the overall level of funding will remain

The South Australian Government has introduced the boldest reforms to the state’s homelessness services in more than a decade.

Following extensive consultation and a competitive tender process, the State Government will be rolling out the ‘Australian-first Alliance’ approach to homelessness, delivering homelessness and domestic and family violence services across South Australia.

The reform comes after it was revealed that South Australia spends more than $70 million annually on homelessness services – yet people still cycle in and out of the system with no substantial improvements over the long term.

The State Government said the reforms will maintain homelessness funding at its current level but will be better allocated to ensure taxpayer dollars are used more efficiently.

Five new alliances are made up of Adelaide South, Adelaide North, Country South, Country North, and Domestic and Family Violence.

They will be committed to:

  1. early prevention of people falling into homelessness, and
  2. supporting people into safe, stable, and long-term housing so they do not cycle in and out of homelessness.

Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink said the reforms were a long-time coming.

“South Australians experiencing homelessness told us that that system was hard to navigate and wasn’t working for them and that’s why we pushed ahead with this long overdue and much-needed reform.”

Michelle Lensink, SA Minister for Human Services

“Organisations in our regions already work collaboratively together to get positive outcomes for South Australians experiencing homelessness and it’s really exciting this reform formalises this approach to ensure everyone is working together.”

However, not all were pleased with the reforms.

Advocacy groups and the State Opposition have criticised the reforms for cutting funding to already established homelessness service providers.

Hutt Street Centre, one of the state’s major providers of homelessness services were left out of the restructuring, equating to $1.2 million in funding cuts.

As first reported on ABC News, chief executive officer Chris Burns said the government’s decision “does not mean the end of the Hutt Street Centre”, but said it would impact on service delivery.

“Without government funding, it is unfortunate that we will not be able to offer the case management that assures a continuum of care for our clients through integrated on-site services.”

Chris Burns, CEO of the Hutt Street Centre

One of Australia’s largest charities, the St Vincent de Paul Society (more commonly known as Vinnies) was another of the member organisations that were unsuccessful in their tender to operate the City-South Homelessness Services. As a result, they suffered funding cuts to their Men’s Crisis Centre in Whitmore Square, which houses close to 50 men each night.

CEO of Vinnies, Louise Miller Frost said that despite the Government’s best intentions to provide a more joined-up service, she argued the sector already operates under a collaborative model and therefore is unlikely to deliver any notable improvements in reducing homelessness.

“Most recently this has been demonstrated through the Adelaide Zero Project, which was largely run by contributions and pro bono work from agencies in the sector, many of whom have just been defunded,” Ms Frost explained.

Ms Frost said what is really needed is more social housing.

“Cutting funding to existing services and bringing new players into the sector will make no difference to the numbers of people experiencing homelessness unless there is more social housing for people to move into.”

Louise Miller Frost, CEO of St Vincent de Paul Society

“Meanwhile, funding cuts to services like the Vinnies Men’s Crisis Centre will lead to more rough sleepers on the streets in the short term at least. Leading into winter, nobody wants to see that.”

To be fair to the State Government, it should be pointed out that South Australia already has the highest percentage of social housing in the states, making up 5.9% of total residential housing according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. They also have one of the lowest homelessness rates in the nation, at 5% – compared to NSW at 32% and Victoria at 21%.

And although there are cuts to particular organisations such as Vinnies, Ms Lensink insisted the overall level of funding will remain at the current level of $70 million. The reform is focussed on how this funding is allocated.

“The tender panel that looked at the submissions was very convinced that the tender that has won the bid will provide the best services going forward,” she said.

So at the heart of this debate is really not to do with funding cuts, but disagreement over how these funds are to be allocated (which inevitably means funding for some at the expense of others).

The reforms are set to be delivered from July 1, 2021.

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