Dialog Box

Taldumande Youth Services

Back to square one

With some recent headlines purporting an ‘influx’ of rough sleepers in the area, what actions are being undertaken to help community members doing it tough. By Stephanie Aikins, Northside Living News

Mission Australia’s Kevin Kingsbeer is eager to point out there has been no significant increase in homelessness on the lower North Shore. However, the Northern Sydney program manager admits the complexity of cases and the demographics of those presenting to the service are changing.

Ten people were counted as sleeping rough in in the North Sydney LGA during the NSW Department of Communities and Justice’s 2022 Street Count, and a further six in Willoughby.

Meanwhile, the rate of locals accessing specialist homelessness services (SHS) on the North Shore remains proportionately low at 19.1 clients per 10,000 population in 2020/21. This is in comparison to 108.3 clients per 10,000 nationally.

Despite this, Kevin says one of the most conspicuous trends the service is seeing of late is a ‘larger cohort of older people, particularly women’. The trend mirrors the data Australia-wide, with older women – those aged above 55 – now the fastest growing group of homeless.

“They present to our service where they don’t own a home and they might be on a combined aged pension. They’ve been in a private rental, one of them passes away, and so they’re left in a situation where they’re down to one income – one aged pension – and they can no longer afford to stay in that property,” Kevin explains.

As interest rates continue to rise in line with inflation, which is expected to peak at 8 per cent in the December quarter, there are concerns this cohort will only increase as homeowners either jump ship and sell their rental properties or pass on the full rate rise to the renter.

Nikki Thomson, operations manager at Taldumande, says more government support is needed for early intervention and prevention services. 

In fact, lower North Shore renters are already feeling the crunch, with analysis by national housing affordability campaign, Everybody’s Home, finding local rents climbed 14.3 per cent, or $107 per week, in the June quarter.

The cost-of-living crisis

These rent hikes are a concern for Nikki Thomson, operations manager at local youth homelessness service, Taldumande.

Despite the general low rates of people receiving SHS assistance on the North Shore, youth is a particular issue, with the area having the greatest proportion of young people (aged 15 – 24) accessing services nationally in 2020/21 at 38 per cent.

Taldumande operates the only crisis accommodation for youth aged 16 –24 north of the Harbour Bridge, and Ms Thomson says in the past year alone the service has been forced to turn away 83 young people from the refuge due to a lack of available beds.

“The idea of our service is that they can stay with us for up to 18 months and during that time we work with them on their financial management skills and mental health, so we can transition them into a private rental. What we’re seeing is it’s increasingly becoming more difficult to transition them into a private rental because there’s no affordable housing for them,” she explains.

“This means while they’re still with us, they’re taking up that bed for someone who needs it.”

Taldumande Youth Services, which runs semi-independent living accommodation Leith House, is finding housing affordability is impacting its ability to transition youth into private rentals. 

What are government’s doing?

Niki Morris oversees the facilitation of the NSW Government’s Together Home program through Mission Australia Northern Sydney.

The $177.5 million initiative aims to transition people away from homelessness into long term housing by having the community housing provider, Link Wentworth in Northern Sydney, take out headleases in the private market. It is a key component of the Government’s 2019 target to halve homelessness in the state by 2025.

Despite the program successfully taking 45 locals from homelessness into stable housing since it was established in 2020, Ms Morris says rising rent prices locally are taking a toll.

The program has a cap of $450 per week per rental, which has resulted in the team being ‘unable to obtain any private rentals’ in the current market.

“For some of our clients, they’ve set up their home, been there for 12 months, and the real estate aren’t extending their leases because they want to increase the rent,” she says.

“So, a lot of our community at the moment who have just been housed and are finding stability for the first time are uprooted after 12 months and are back to square one.”

In response to this affordability crisis, the October Federal Budget saw the establishment of the new National Housing Accord, bringing together all levels of governments, investors, and industry to boost affordable housing supply.

Under the Accord, the Commonwealth Government will provide $350 million to deliver 10,000 additional affordable housing dwellings over five years from mid-2024.

The budget also allocated $10 billion to be invested in the Housing Australia Future Fund, with investment returns from the Fund to finance the construction of 20,000 new social housing and 10,000 new affordable housing dwellings.

Locally, Willoughby City Council announced in October it is moving ahead with a development application for a 12-unit affordable housing block on Council-owned land in Artarmon. This sees the local government on track to meet its affordable housing target of 70 dwellings by 2026.

North Sydney Council also endorsed a new 12-unit affordable housing project on Council-owned land in March this year and is seeking funding partners to deliver the ‘shovel ready’ Parraween Street Carpark affordable housing project in Cremorne ‘as soon as possible’.

Taldumande’s Ms Thomson says while such efforts to increase affordable housing supply will ‘certainly help’ those experiencing homelessness, they must coincide with further government supports for early intervention and prevention services.

“We can’t support people in accommodation without the wraparound support to work on the other areas in their life,” she explains.

“So, even if there is an increase in the product, we need to match that with the available mental health and family supports.”

With work occurring at all levels of government and across SHS, housing and mental health services, Kevin says he remains ‘hopeful’ though that the issue of homelessness locally can be addressed.

“There’s a lot of work going into it and I’m hopeful that, that can be achieved. But without services like us, it just won’t happen.”

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06 March 2023
Category: News