Enquiry into homelessness in Australia to consider issues in remote communities

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock

Fifty extra beds will soon be made available to people sleeping rough in Darwin, when a temporary facility set up to provide overflow accommodation opens its doors to the homeless.

Opened in June to provide shelter for the city's additional visitors post-coronavirus lockdown, beds and meals will be offered to the homeless at $10-$15 a night as the population returns to its dry season normal.

The Northern Territory government-funded Yilli Rreung Housing Aboriginal Corporation will manage operations at the transitional accommodation facility.

Chief executive of the Aboriginal community housing provider Leeanne Caton said while the shelter would provide some relief in a region beset by homelessness - it was just the tip of the iceberg for those doing it tough in the top end. Ms Caton said people in remote regions were suffering deeply, with instability worsened as a result of overcrowding.

"We just need so much more housing out there, the overcrowding is just unbelievable in some of those places, we're talking 25-30 people living in one house," she said.

"Then when you've got issues of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence the problem just increases."

Ms Caton said building more houses in remote Australia was the only solution, however, governments were reluctant to with costs of up to $500,000 for a single family home.

"You can provide the wrap-around services wherever people are but it's about providing a facility where people can have some dignity and have a clean, safe place to sleep," Ms Caton said.

Dr Simon Quilty has worked as a physician in the remote NT for the past eight years.

With census data indicating homelessness in remote communities was more than 31 times the national average, Dr Quilty has urged the Federal government to respond when conducting its national inquiry into homelessness.

The Australian National University academic said there were children in his daughter's classroom in Katherine who were coming to school after having spent the night sleeping in a tent.

"Aboriginal people on haemodialysis are homeless, young people with terminal disease are not given the dignity of adequate housing before they die and the NT Department of Housing's stated waitlist of less than two years for medical priority housing is simply not true," Dr Quilty said.

Following the suspension of the inquiry due to coronavirus, a committee has resumed its analysis of Dr Quilty's concerns and a myriad of others raised during a submission process which closed during the second week of June.

An NT government spokesperson said the territory welcomed the inquiry, while acknowledging its 2016 pledge to invest $1.5 billion into remote Indigenous Housing and Land Servicing programs over a 10 year period.

In 2019-2020 the NT government provided $2.68 million in funding for the delivery of homelessness services, including transitional housing, outreach and counselling in the Katherine region over the next five years, the spokesperson said.

Dean Jones is a case manager at the Katherine Doorways Hub at The Salvation Army drop-in centre for people sleeping rough.

He said currently there was no homelessness plan for Katherine and Doorways had no emergency accommodation facilities to direct the 50 to 70 people through its doors each morning.

Dr Quilty agreed with Ms Caton that the only solution was to build more houses quickly, which the expansion of the Royal Australian Air Force's Tindal air base had demonstrated was possible in remote NT.

In 2016, Lendlease was awarded a $495 million defense contract at the airbase. The company built a construction camp for 150 employees, complete with a swimming pool, in less than 12 months.

Dr Quilty said one only needed to look at what services were provided elsewhere to draw a conclusion about the different value placed on lives in Australia.

"The Katherine region has more homeless people than inner-city Sydney and until two years ago it didn't even have a homelessness drop-in centre, yet if you walk through Darlinghurst or Kings Cross there are homeless services everywhere," he said.

"I regularly have patients who have dire health conditions when they are very young who I cannot arrange housing for, despite the fact that they may be months or years away from death and in their thirties - absolutely this would not happen to white people.

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"Of course this problem is resolvable, too," he said.

Dr Quilty said while this was not a new problem the climate crisis was very much bringing it to the forefront.

"There is a wide body of literature worldwide demonstrating homeless people are very vulnerable to heat extremes and a town like Katherine has the highest homelessness rate in Australia and it's also the hottest large town in the Northern Territory," Dr Quilty said.

Dr Quilty said without a national enquiry there had been a complete lack of leadership on how to manage the complex social issues colonisation had inflicted on Aboriginal people.

"What we are doing is ignoring their needs, which is the same thing we've been doing for 40 or 50 years," he said.

This story 'This would not happen to white people': homelessness soars in Katherine first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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