Sydney street count reveals lowest homeless numbers in a decade

Photo: City of Sydney/supplied.

By TRAVIS DE JONK

The City of Sydney Council’s ambitious plan to tackle homelessness appears to be having an effect, helping deliver the lowest homeless statistics in a decade despite the complexities of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The City’s twice-yearly street count provides an important snapshot of homelessness in the local government area, and the most recent count reveals 18 per cent fewer people living rough compared to the same time last year. 

According to the newly released figures, the summer street count on 23 February, 2021 found 272 people sleeping on the streets compared to 334 in February 2020 – the lowest homeless statistics since 2013. In addition, the council reports that crisis and temporary accommodation occupancy is down nine per cent on the same time last year. 

During the height of the pandemic, nearly all rough sleepers were provided accommodation, revealing a practical vision of what net zero homelessness could look like. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the ongoing decrease in homelessness was encouraging but that more support was needed to get people into permanent housing. 

“We saw the NSW Government invest a huge amount in temporary accommodation last year to effectively get almost every person sleeping rough into some sort of housing at the height of the pandemic – so we know it can be done,” Ms Moore said. 

“To make the sort of impact we saw through the pandemic permanent, Sydney needs more appropriate, long-term social housing and diverse accommodation options, particularly for non- residents, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with complex care needs who have found themselves on the streets.” 

According to the City of Sydney, approximately 240,229 people live within the local government area which encompasses the CBD and 32 surrounding inner city suburbs. City projections forecast the population will reach 339,498 by 2036 – a massive growth rate of 40 per cent in fifteen years and well over double its 2001 population. 

Less than one per cent of housing in Sydney is affordable to people on low and very low incomes, and currently there are 45,000 social housing households on the waiting list, however waiting times for them in inner Sydney can be five to ten years – hence the council taking the issue of homelessness so seriously. 

In 2019, the City of Sydney signed an agreement with the NSW Government that ambitiously aims for net zero homelessness with a set target of reducing rough sleepers in Sydney by 50 per cent by 2025. The council runs a homelessness unit, investing millions into emergency housing services and related facilities – the first local government authority in Australia to do so. 

The City is using its available planning powers to facilitate affordable rental dwellings and lobbying state and federal governments – who control the levers for welfare, social and affordable housing – with proposals that could see up to 30 per cent social housing for communities such as Waterloo South. 

“The City is doing everything it can to generate more affordable housing in our local area. Initiatives include planning and development agreements, land rezoning and transfers, affordable housing levies and a dedicated fund to support the development of permanent affordable and diverse housing,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“We have proposed the Government include at least 30 per cent social housing and 20 per cent affordable housing in Waterloo South. We have also recommended more housing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with their long connections to this area … This would go some way to meeting the critical need for social and affordable housing in the area,” she said.