Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rudd gets serious about homelessness.

Declaring that he doesn’t want to be Prime Minister “just for the sake of it” Kevin Rudd has ordered an inquiry into homelessness and demanded the draft report by May.

“It’s dead wrong that in a country as wealthy as ours, we have 100,000 people who are classified as homeless,” the Prime Minister said after meeting members of the Choir of Hard Knocks at Parliament House.

“It’s dead wrong that in a country as wealthy as ours 10,000 of those homeless people are children. It’s dead wrong that in a country as wealthy as ours that on any given night some 14,000 people are sleeping rough.”

Labor had already promised build an extra 600 houses for homeless people over the next five years. But Mr Rudd said yesterday that that wasn’t enough...

“It’s not just a question of saying, here’s a building, put all the homeless people in it. It doesn’t work that way. I’m not interested in being the Prime Minister of Australia for the sake of being here. Frankly, I’m just not. I want to make a difference and this is one area where we as a nation can make a difference if we get it right.

The Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson offered the Prime Minister his full support. “I commit the alternative government of Australia to do everything that we can to work with the development of the White Paper,” he said. “We have got to make sure that there shouldn’t be any person in Australia that’s homeless without all of the support that could be given and unfortunately about a third of those people are suffering from mental illness”.

Mr Rudd has asked the executive director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence Tony Nicholson to prepare what will be his government’s first White Paper. The draft report will be due in May, and the final report by August.

Mr Nicholson told the Canberra Times that the timetable was tight and that he wasn’t going to waste time re-reporting what was known.

“Over the last decade we have counted and analysed the homeless repeatedly. We are not going to do that again. We are going to come up with a plan.”

Mr Nicholson said that the Coalition had “sat on its hands for a decade as it became well nigh impossible for low income people to afford to rent in the private market.”

Mr Rudd had handed him a unique opportunity to help make inroads into the problem.

“I have working in this field for over 25 years and this is the first time that we have had such a commitment from a Prime Minister,” he said.

“Those of us in this area have been impressed with the way in which he has gone out of his way to visit homeless centres. Not with a media entourage or with a bus full of advisors, generally just himself and one other person, sitting down and listening carefully to staff and homeless people.”

Mr Nicholson said he wanted the 1,300 or more community organisations that deliver services to tell him what worked and what needed to be changed. He wanted to see which successful local programs could be taken national.

The director of ACT Shelter Jeffrey Dalton said the Territory had several ideas to offer. One was the draft Charter of Rights for homeless people currently under consideration by the ACT government.

A lot could be also done with Centrelink whose procedures can trigger homelessness. When it stops payments to clients it can inadvertently stop their rent, which is often automatically deducted from their payments.