News & Current Affairs
24 December 2014
Abbott: Merry Christmas People
Homelessness advocacy groups lose $21m in federal government funding
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is calling for a Senate inquiry into the cuts
Peak organisations told on Monday they would no longer receive funding, raising questions over whether voice of homeless people and sector will be lost
Homelessness groups are facing an uncertain Christmas after the federal government reportedly pulled funding from a number of advocacy organisations.
Several peak organisations that provide policy advice and research into homelessness and housing services received word from the Department of Social Services on Monday that they would no longer receive funding.
“We were deeply disappointed,” Glenda Stevens, CEO of Homelessness Australia, told Guardian Australia. The group’s funding expired at the end of the last financial year, and it was on a short-term contract until the government decided whether or not to renew it.
Grants from the government make up nearly 100% of Homelessness Australia’s annual budget.
“As an organisation it’s going to be extremely difficult, a challenge,” Stevens said.
She said the government is removing a round of funding for homelessness and housing services altogether, saving $21m over four years.
Guardian Australia has contacted new social services minister Scott Morrison to confirm the funding cuts, but has received no response. Outgoing minister Kevin Andrews would not comment, instead referring the matter to Morrison’s office.
“It’s a really callous act to cut the voice of the homeless a couple of days before Christmas,” the chief executive of National Shelter, Adrian Pisarski, told ABC TV.
“We would also like to think that there’s a chance that we could argue our case to the federal government although that doesn’t seem likely, given that they have axed the whole housing and homelessness section from their program,” Pisarski said.
National Shelter will lose $150,000 a year in funding, which Pisarski said is the organisation’s whole secretariat budget.
The Community Housing Federation of Australia has lost over three-quarters of its annual budget in government funding cuts. The Department of Social Services had pledged to continue funding the group until June 2016 but reneged following the mid-year economic and financial outlook (Myefo).
“We were not prepared for that at all,” CEO Carol Croce told Guardian Australia. “It’s a big shock for staff, a few days before Christmas.”
“I don’t think this is a reflection on our work at all,” she said. “This is a budget repair exercise.”
“Who are the people who are going to be the voice for the sector? That’s what’s going to be missing.”
Labor is calling on the government to rethink the cuts.
“I think that it’s an absolute disgrace that this government, on the eve of Christmas no less, has chosen to cut homeless services,” Labor’s employment spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, told reporters on Tuesday.
“We’ve seen this government cut and slash and burn services to the most vulnerable Australians, and for that reason they should be condemned.”
The Christmas period traditionally sees an upsurge in the number of people seeking help from welfare and homelessness groups.
Pisarski said: “There’s over 105,000 people homeless on any given night and hundreds of thousands of people on public housing waiting lists.”
Stevens said every night 423 homeless people are turned away from under pressure frontline service providers.
She warned that number is likely to increase once the tightening of welfare measures for under-30s is implemented, saying that up to 100,000 young people could seek homelessness services once they are barred from receiving welfare for the first six months they are looking for a job.
Pisarski said the funding cuts raise questions about the government’s intent.
“We are some of the few voices that provide consistent long-term advice to governments about how bad the situation is and what they can do about it. They clearly don’t want to hear what we have to say or what people who are struggling have to say,” Pisarski said.
The Greens are calling for an investigation into the handling of the sector’s funding cuts.
“I will move for a Senate inquiry into the grants process undertaken by the Department of Social Security when the Senate resumes,” Greens senator Rachel Siewert said.
“An inquiry is needed to thoroughly examine the government’s decision making process and the way they have gone about delivering these significant and harmful cuts.”