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Housing and Homelessness

Homeless services unable to meet needs of sector

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A new study carried out by researchers from The University of Western Australia for the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has found services to support the homeless face an increasingly constrained funding environment that is reliant on government sources of funding. As the result, the services are unable to meet the needs of the sector.

The study, which was funded by AHURI, used data from the Australian Homelessness Funding and Delivery Survey and is the first of its kind in Australia.

It assessed the implications of the current funding environment for meeting growing demands for services to support the homeless in Australia.

Lead author of the study Professor Paul Flatau, Director UWA Centre for Social Impact, said the majority of Australian homeless services were heavily or solely reliant on government funding.

“The homelessness sector’s reliance on government funding—which comprises between 60.6 per cent and 84.6 per cent of the sector’s income—can make it more vulnerable to changes in government policy, and to funding cut backs driven by financial constraints in government,” Professor Flatau said.

“In particular, current levels of funding are too low to fully meet the current needs of those experiencing homelessness and help homeless people find employment and access permanent housing.”

The study found that with current funding, only a minority of services surveyed were able to fully meet demands of their clients for access to permanent housing. Recognising the need to increase their income, many services had investigated alternative funding sources.

“Many homeless services indicate they have taken steps to diversity their funding base,” Professor Flatau said.

“This includes applying for philanthropic funding, instigating social enterprises to generate revenue, public donations and targeting a broader range of government sources of funds.

“However, in considering actions to diversify funding, some homeless services pointed to concerns about potential negative consequences associated with a more diversified funding base. These concerns included implications for increased reporting and excessive output/outcome measurement.”

James Toomey, Executive Operations and Fundraising at Mission Australia said across the country homeless services were stretched with particular issues facing rural and remote communities.

“It can be distressing for staff to have to turn people away, but that is nothing compared to the human cost when people can’t access the services they need,” he said.

“A number of the programs we run are funded through regular givers, philanthropists and bequests.

“They enable us to supplement the programs which federal, state and territories pay us to deliver but we still struggle to provide the extent and levels of support that many of our service users require.”

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