Academic journal article Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform

Paved with Good Intentions: The Road Home and the Irreducible Minimum of Homelessness in Australia

Academic journal article Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform

Paved with Good Intentions: The Road Home and the Irreducible Minimum of Homelessness in Australia

Article excerpt

Abstract

Despite public interest and public inquiries as long ago as the 1989 Human Rights Commission and the consequent increase in funding by the Hawke and subsequent governments, the 2006 rate of homelessness in Australia was 32 per 10 000, only marginally better than the 34.8 per 10 000 of 2001. This article explores the reasons for the apparent failure to fulfil past promises and the weaknesses in current strategy. It argues for an explicit policy framework containing the assumption that there is an irreducible level of homelessness, and that there should be an assessment of the cost-effectiveness, probability of success and timeliness of each known remedy, in order to achieve the irreducible level.

Introduction

In its 2008 White Paper The Road Home, the Australian Government promised to halve by 2020 overall homelessness and offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who were deemed to need it. The then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, contended in the same document, that 'In a country as prosperous as Australia, no-one should be homeless' (FaHCSIA 2008a: Foreword). The apparent difference between Rudd's contention and his promise suggests a lack of political will. Or was it recognition that homelessness can be reduced, but is not solvable? The Rudd goal was no doubt a political aspiration, constrained by, on the one hand, the wish not to repeat Prime Minister Bob Hawke's promise of 1987 ('no Australian child will be living in poverty'2) and, on the other, a need to make sufficient 'announcement' impact. Indeed, the stated goal may amount to an implicit admission that, despite best endeavours, there is an irreducible level of homelessness.

This is not to ignore the exhortation to 'do better' that a goal implies, but an admission that an irreducible level of homelessness should, if proved, be made an explicit part of policy. Indeed, the goal of such policy may well be to reach the irreducible level of homelessness. Whether such level is 'half' the present level - or less, or more - is unknown. This paper proposes a way to discover the irreducible level of homelessness. The proposed method is to distinguish causes of homelessness and, for each cause, to assess the cost-effectiveness, probability of success and timeliness of each present remedy, and alternative remedies. At the same time, account is taken of measures that will reduce the stock of homeless and distinguish these from those that reduce the flow of homeless.

Some history

In 1989 the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Brian Burdekin, reported on homelessness among the young in Australia in Our Homeless Children (AHRC 1989) and made homelessness a headline issue. He was appointed by a sympathetic government and he reported to a sympathetic Minister in Brian Howe, a member of a pro-intervention cabinet. The responses to Burdekin's recommendations were exhaustive and continued in subsequent administrations. Contributions under the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement rose from $1.27 billion to $1.51 billion in the period 1990-95 (HAA 2002: 105); funding for Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) agencies3 increased to $400.4 million by 2008, a 28 per cent increase in real terms from 1996, and the number of SAAP agencies increased from 500 to 1562 in the period 1985-2008 (AIHW 2009, 7: 297).

In 1993 the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national inquiry into the human rights of people with mental illness (AHRC 1993), which highlighted mental illness as a major factor in homelessness. Although the responses to the second inquiry were not as comprehensive as those that followed the first, there were nevertheless considerable changes to the treatment of those with mental-health problems (Ozdowski 2001). The new inquiries and the government responses unfortunately appear to have been insufficient, as the rate of homelessness recorded in the 2006 Census was 32 per 10 000 of the population, down only marginally from 34. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.