City of Sydney calls for pandemic homeless help to continue

Hundreds of people continue to sleep rough in the City of Sydney LGA, with the City's latest summer street count finding 225 sleeping rough. Photo: Sardaka/Wikimedia Commons, published under Creative Commons 4.0.

By TILEAH DOBSON

At the height of Sydney’s Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, the city’s homeless were given roofs over their heads, to get them off the streets and into safety.

While lockdown is now a memory, the issue of homelessness is not.

The City of Sydney Council’s latest summer street count found 225 people sleeping rough on Sydney’s inner city streets, compared to 272 in February last year.

The figures were released after more than 110 volunteers took to the streets to carry out the twice-yearly street count, joined by eight of the City of Sydney’s homelessness advisors – volunteers with lived experience of homelessness.

While the figures represent an improvement on last summer’s numbers, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore isn’t satisfied with the results, believing more needs to be done.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is calling for state government pandemic measures around homelessness to continue. File photo.

“When the city went into lockdown, the NSW Government seized the opportunity to house people,” Moore said.

“People sleeping rough were rushed into temporary accommodation and many were then supported into longer-term housing. Many people who aren’t residents, who usually live without government support, were kept safe in emergency accommodation.

“Despite this increase in investment, we still have over 200 people sleeping on city streets each night. Much of this extra help has now dried up or been discontinued and non-residents are back to not being able to access any support at all.”

The Lord Mayor’s sentiments are shared by her fellow councillor, Yvonne Weldon, who says the state and federal governments have failed to adequately address the housing crisis.

“All levels of government must be involved, and none are doing enough. Federal policies favour homeowners over renters and make ownership and rental increasingly unaffordable for too many of us,” Weldon told The Sentinel.

However, not all the blame is to be put on state and federal governments, says Weldon, who believes the City of Sydney itself is capable of doing more.

The newly minted NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year, Yvonne Weldon, believes all levels of government must be involved in tackling the housing crisis and are none are doing enough. Photo: Yvonne Weldon/Facebook.

“I’m very supportive of the City’s homeless unit: it provides a critical service, connecting people in need with the services to help them. It should be expanded: why shouldn’t the City provide food, clothing and other services to our most vulnerable citizens, instead of relying on volunteer organisations?” Weldon said.

“No solution can escape the fact that there is a huge dearth of affordable living spaces across Sydney. And without long term, secure housing, we simply won’t reduce homelessness, ever. The council – and state and federal government – must address this.

“The City has not built nor funded enough new stock to even keep up with demand, and we simply must do better,” she said.

In a statement, the City of Sydney said the LGA was the first local council in Australia to set up a homelessness unit and that the City invests over $1 million each year in specialist homelessness services.

Last month, a new Housing for All committee was established by City of Sydney councillors, to investigate ways of making housing more affordable and accessible in Sydney.

Upon its launch, Greens City of Sydney Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said local government had a strong role to play in tackling the issue of homelessness.

“Affordable housing crisis is the responsibility of all levels of government,” she said.

Tileah Dobson is the news editor and sub-editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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