The NSW government has pledged “to do better” to combat homelessness after the state’s latest street count found a dramatic increase in the number of rough sleepers.
Labor MP Andrew Charlton says housing is in “crisis across Australia”.
“The only solution to that is to build more houses – we have a policy on the table to do exactly that; it’s being blocked by the Greens in combination with the Liberals,” Mr Charlton told Sky News host Sharri Markson.
The latest NSW Street Count released on Thursday recorded 1,623 rough sleepers, a 34 per cent increase compared to last year’s total of 1,207.
More than 300 organisations consulted with the state government to conduct counts across 350 towns and suburbs in 76 local government areas between February 2 and February 27 2023.
NSW Minister for Homelessness Rose Jackson said the latest figure was “deeply concerning” and the state government was determined to drive the number down.
“We need to do better, we need to drive these numbers down and provide our most vulnerable with access to safe and secure housing,” Ms Jackson said.
The street counts revealed the highest proportion of rough sleepers were located in regional and rural areas with Byron Bay, Clarence Valley, Eurobodalla, and Coffs Harbour joining the City of Sydney with the steepest increase.
“We must ensure we are supporting our regional and rural communities. I have seen firsthand the housing issues experienced in regional and rural areas,” Ms Jackson said.
“I want to accelerate social housing developments like Tolland Estate in Wagga Wagga, making sure people in our regions also have access to safe, stable housing.
“The incoming NSW Government has made a clear commitment to rebuilding a housing system with dignity and fairness at its core and prioritising the delivery of more homes to tackle our housing crisis.”
Following the National Cabinet meeting this month, the Albanese government announced $2 billion for social and affordable homes to be split across all states and territories on a per capita basis.
NSW will receive more than 50 per cent of the total Social Housing Fund Accelerator payment – a $610 million investment which will go towards boosting social housing.
“The incoming NSW Government has made a clear commitment to rebuilding a housing system with dignity and fairness at its core and prioritising the delivery of more homes to tackle our housing crisis,” Ms Jackson said.
“The two things that are central to our plan to drive homelessness numbers down are delivering more social housing and more comprehensive support services.”
There will be a two-year extension of Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) contracts and from July 1 people in temporary accommodation will no longer be required to complete a Rental Diary to prove they are looking for housing.
“To be clear, these initiatives are just the start, there is so much more that needs to be done to support our homelessness community – our aim is that experiences of homelessness are rare, brief and not repeated. We know we have a long way to go in achieving that goal,” Ms Jackson said.
But Homelessness NSW is calling on the government to increase the net stock of social housing from 4.7 per cent to 10 per cent and properly fund more services to meet the rise in demand.
“The rising cost of living and a dire shortage of affordable rental homes is fuelling a homelessness crisis across NSW,” it said in a statement.
“We can end street sleeping but we need to invest in what works.
“The government must also urgently invest in more social housing which has been allowed to plunge over the past decade to historically low levels with waiting times blowing out to more than 10 years.”
At least 57,550 households were on the waitlist for social housing in June 2022, which includes government-owned public housing, and community housing, according to recent figures from Shelter NSW.
The biggest pool of applicants were in south-western Sydney with 10,641 awaiting housing.