Street Homelessness: a problem waiting for prevention
Dame Louise Casey, Chair of the Institute of Global Homelessness, in her moving speech at the Act to End Street Sleeping Symposium, tells the story of a collective impact project in Chicago that aimed to end street homelessness. The project counted that the city was housing 120 homeless veterans each week but they had 125 new veterans arriving on the streets to replace them. Her point: housing homeless people is only half of the equation.
It’s true, evidence shows that housing-first is an important solution for those sleeping rough. But it’s not enough to rescue people once they’ve reached the streets. We must intervene before they hit rock bottom and start rough sleeping.
Christine McBride, Manager of Programs and Services at the City of Sydney, agrees that social housing and services are important, but ‘there is a need for a broader focus on prevention… it is about looking at what are the things that tipped people immediately over into the crisis and caused them to be homeless in the first place… and working in both directions to change the systems around them.’
In 2018 The Institute for Global Homelessness invited Sydney to become a Vanguard City; a city that has the compassion and sense to end street sleeping through a combination of preventative systems changes and housing-first for those already on the streets.
At the Act to End Street Sleeping Sydney 2018 Symposium Dame Louise explained what she’d learned about how to end street homelessness, namely:
1. Collect person-by-person data to change individual lives and the whole system
2. Set a goal and commit to systems transformation to ‘turn off the taps’
3. Reshape our homelessness services so they focus on prevention.
James Toomey, CEO of Mission Australia, spoke about systems change: ‘we have to recognise, both as organisations and as individuals working in those organisations, that we will have to change what we do and how we do it.’
In 2019 Sydney became the tenth city to join the Institute for Global Homelessness Vanguard City program; a city that has the compassion and sense to end street sleeping through a combination of preventative systems changes and housing-first for those already on the streets.
The joint commitment between the Institute of Global Homelessness, City of Sydney, NSW Government and the sector’s leading NGOs realises that collaboratively we will ensure a better outcome for those on the streets.
Systems change: focus on a few to benefit many
People experiencing homelessness are overwhelmingly victims of family violence; refugees; people with mental health or addiction problems; young people who have grown up in out of home care; and people from families facing inter-generational homelessness or welfare dependence.
The true impact of ending street sleeping encompasses this profound ripple effect. By helping the thousand people sleeping rough in Sydney we’ll be making changes to social services, justice and health systems that benefit many thousands more; those who are edging ever closer to rough sleeping because of poverty, disadvantage, illness and hardship.