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Councils unite to address homelessness in the suburbs

Monday, August 2, 2021

The number of homeless men, women and children is growing in suburban areas and COVID-19 has further impacted the vulnerability of those who sleep rough without a safe place to call home.

Bayside City Council is among 13 eastern and south eastern municipalities uniting to address homelessness with a best practice guide launched during Homelessness Week 2021 (1-8 August), the Housing First for People Sleeping Rough Practice Guide for Local Government.

More than 116,000 Australians and almost 25,000 Victorians were homeless on any given night pre-COVID-19 (ABS 2016 Census*), including 7,490 across the 13 municipalities.

The 13 eastern and south eastern Councils formed the Regional Local Government Homelessness and Social Housing Charter Group in late 2019 to end homelessness and advocate for more social housing. The 2016 Census found 32 per cent of Victorians without a home lived in this region.

The Charter Group Councils recognise the growing need for suburban and local government advocacy for our most vulnerable through improved supports and more permanent and safe housing.

The municipalities include Bayside City Council, the City of Casey, City of Cardinia, Frankston City Council, City of Greater Dandenong, Knox City Council, City of Kingston, Manningham City Council, City of Monash, Maroondah City Council, Mornington Peninsula Shire, City of Whitehorse, and Yarra Ranges Council.

Housing First for People Sleeping Rough Practice Guide for Local Government

The guide acknowledges that homelessness is a complex issue requiring a triage of support including mental health, but the first step needs to be providing a safe and secure home.

The guide outlines the problem and possible solutions based on current best practice. It draws on evidence-based research about the value of social housing across the local government sector and communities, with an emphasis on the ‘Housing First’ model.

Housing First is based on consumer choice, harm minimisation, human rights and collaboration. It relies on adequate housing supply and coordinated support services. Any Council can use the guide to reflect, better understand the Housing First model and see how others approach the issue.

Bayside CEO Mick Cummins said the Councils sought systemic change to improve supply of permanent, safe, appropriate and timely housing for those who needed it, and to embed Housing First as a key foundation principle.

“The new guide for local government will assist Councils such as Bayside to approach homelessness based on human rights, including everyone’s right to a safe and affordable home, while protecting public places and spaces’, Mr Cummins said.

"Homelessness Week is a reminder for all of us to think about what having a home means and to consider what it might be like for those who don’t have them. If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, it is the importance of a home.”

Mr Cummins said the collaboration between the 13 Councils enabled benchmarking, shared ideas and the development of best practice protocols, resources, sector networks, community education and advocacy for more social housing.

He also welcomed the recent $5.3 billion Victorian Government investment in social housing.

Bayside's approach to homelessness

Highlighted in the new guide, Bayside City Council’s Homelessness Referral Guidelines use principles based on human rights and a person-centred approach for integrated, inclusive and compassionate service delivery to the Bayside community. Council’s role is to:

  • Ensure that people requiring assistance are referred to the appropriate service providers or agencies as soon as possible
  • Provide information to the community about where they can access health, financial, legal or housing assistance
  • Provide information to assist with the understanding of homelessness by the broader community
  • Monitor the extent of homelessness in the Bayside municipality
  • Remove hazardous items (sharps, waste, open alcohol)
  • Increase staff understanding about the causes of homelessness and local support services
  • Monitor compliance with local laws.

The guide follows initial research that the City of Monash commissioned through the Council to Homeless Persons: Making a difference – effective local government responses to homelessness.  

It found Councils were well placed to address homelessness as by-laws officers, parks staff or contractors often interacted with people sleeping rough on public land and facilities. 

Often out of concern, local businesses and residents are also likely to contact Councils’ customer service staff to report people experiencing homelessness.

The resulting Regional Local Government Homelessness and Social Housing Charter (Charter) was endorsed by the 13 Charter Group councils, the Eastern Region Group of Councils and Eastern Affordable Housing Alliance.

It aims to address the urgent need for more social housing and a more effective, integrated and supported homelessness service system. The charter’s four principles include:

  1. Human rights and ‘Housing First’.  Through this:
  2. Housing is a human right for every person.
  3. Local government can influence an increase in social housing in our region
  4. Participating councils commit to working with the homelessness sector on a Housing First response.

More information on Homelessness Week

*The 2016 Census provides important indicative data for comparison between regions and across time, but does not capture every resident living in every situation, particularly those sleeping rough in locations where they may not be visible to Census takers. New data will be collected in the 2021 Census. 


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