Increasing rates of homelessness in Sydney’s Inner West has sparked debate about the role of local government in addressing the issue.
Recently released data from the 2016 census estimates that 2,215 homeless persons currently reside in the Inner West LGA, representing an increase from 2,003 in the 2011 census and making it one of the worst in the state.
A recent street count conducted by the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (NNC) also found 28 people sleeping rough in the Newtown area, where only 2 were identified the year prior.
According to Liz Yeo, CEO of the NNC, this data is reflective of the strain being placed on their outreach services.
The landscape of homelessness in Sydney’s Inner West is being shaped by the problem of gentrification in the area. The Inner West Council’s Homelessness Policy states that an influx of affluent residents and rising property prices have pushed out many long-term, disadvantaged residents of the area.
The truth is all levels of government are to blame. And they only want, it seems to me, to do the minimum that they have to
Greens Councillor Tom Kiat, supports this: “The private housing market is not and will not provide housing that is affordable for medium income earners, let alone lower income earners. And we’re also seeing in New South Wales a decline in wages. It’s a crisis really.”
In Ms Yeo’s estimate, alleviating the crisis would require “a serious investment in social and affordable housing”.
The council policy recognises that local government does have a role to play in the provision of affordable housing. But a year into their current Homelessness Policy, Cr Kiat said“council can and should be doing more to try and address the problem of homeless and housing unaffordability in our area”.
Reverend Bill Crews of Ashfield’s Exodus Foundation says that, “the truth is all levels of government are to blame. And they only want, it seems to me, to do the minimum that they have to”.
Speaking from London, Reverend Crews offered: “A real solution would be like here in London, where 30% of all new housing must be for people on low incomes. Even 15% would make a huge difference, but it seems like no one in Australia wants to do anything about it.”
However, according to Ms Yeo, this is not for lack of community support on the issue: “We know a lot of people in our local community want to do something about this”.
But Councillor Kiat says that the Inner West Council still needs to do more to meet the objectives of their own Homelessness Policy: “Council does have limited resources in this regard, compared to say the State Government”, but “it’s the expectation of the community actually that we do a lot more”.