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Homelessness Services funding expected to have significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness or insecure housing

NT Shelter has featured in Croakey Health Media article, Warnings over tough on crime policies in the Northern Territory.

‘Introduction by Croakey: The Northern Territory Government says its new curfew laws and “Record Police Budget” are about keeping the community safe, but some experts warn that the measures will undermine safety and cause harm.

They say First Nations children who are experiencing poverty, disability and health issues, as well as overcrowding will bear the brunt of policies that do not address the root causes of crime, trauma and disadvantage.

Meanwhile, new Federal funding to address homelessness and housing insecurity in the NT has been welcomed, though Aboriginal health leaders have cautioned these “must be administered effectively, transparently, and with formal Aboriginal oversight to ensure that they are effective”.

Alison Barrett writes:

Social service and children advocate groups have raised concerns about new laws passed this week in Northern Territory to provide police with more power to enact curfews.

Chief Minister of the NT Eva Lawler and Minister for Police Brent Potter said in a statement they do not expect the new laws to be enacted frequently, but “the Lawler Labor Government is providing police with the extra powers they need to keep Territorians safe”.

The statement says that if a situation arises where a curfew is the responsible course of action, the Police Commissioner can enact a curfew for a maximum of three days, with the option to extend to a maximum of seven days if approved by the Minister for Police.

Sally Sievers, CEO of NT Council of Social Service, said in a statement that this approach “does not address the causes of why people, particularly young people, are maybe on the streets, like unsafe homes, domestic and family violence, overcrowded and substandard housing”.

“The real hard work that must be done and real accountability to the NT community is addressing the causes of offending and working with the community on solutions that support youth and families and will provide long term answers,” she said.

NTCOSS also raised concerns about the lack of requirement for community consultation in the Bill.

Similarly, Shahleena Musk, NT Children’s Commissioner, told ABC Radio National that she and other colleagues were not consulted on the Bill, nor were Aboriginal elders and leaders who have “significant expertise in this area”.

Sievers and Musk both expressed concern the legislation could discriminate by race or age.

Children at risk

Musk said she has “real concerns” it could target children who are experiencing poverty, disability and health issues, as well as overcrowding and housing.

In the NT, “many kids don’t have a safe place to sleep at night, and that’s one reason why they could be out on the streets”, she said.

Amnesty International Australia also strongly condemned the move, saying the legislation “poses a threat to First Nations children”.

Rachael McPhail, Indigenous Rights Campaigner for Amnesty, said that curfews do not work. “They just punish kids who don’t have a safe place to sleep and fail to address long term issues such as poverty and lack of habitable housing,” she said.

“Justice reinvestment is way more cost-effective for Government and taxpayers. Investing in alternatives to prison will assist in breaking the cycle of targeted systemic injustice, ensuring their futures are not jeopardised by punitive approaches.”

The legislation comes following criticisms about additional funding for police and prisons in the NT Budget last week, with almost $90 million provided to police operations, according to a Government statement headlined, ‘Record Police Budget in 2024′.  

Sievers at NTCOSS said the focus on prisons and policing in the budget “provides a false sense of security to Territorians, that community safety will be achieved only by more police and prisons” when it is the community sector that “do the prevention and early intervention work that can ensure young people do not become involved in the criminal justice system”.

The Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory – a formal alliance of organisations representing Aboriginal people in the NT – said in a statement that they welcome the NT Budget investments in housing, community safety and education.

However, they emphasised that “increased police presence won’t guarantee safer communities”.

It is important to direct “police funding towards a flexible and culturally sensitive community policing model… that should prioritise ongoing cross-cultural training for officers, fostering respectful relationships with remote communities, and expanding the Aboriginal community police workforce”, the APONT says.

While the Territory budget initiatives are welcome, they do “fall short” of addressing key recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s review of Closing the Gap.

“To truly address the challenges facing Aboriginal communities, a more comprehensive approach aligned with Closing the Gap targets is needed,” Nicole Hucks, Acting CEO of APONT said.

Federal Budget news welcomed

Meanwhile, Commonwealth funding for homelessness services and housing in the Northern Territory, confirmed in the Federal Budget, is expected to have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness or insecure housing.

Peter McMillan, CEO of NT Shelter, told Croakey they were “delighted” with the Federal funding for housing and homelessness in the NT under the National Agreement on Social Housing and Homelessness, which will commence on 1 July 2024.

McMillan said the seven-fold increase in funding to specifically address homelessness (from $5.9 million to $42.8 million) is a “truly magnificent outcome” and testament of the long-standing advocacy efforts of member organisations.

He said that any funding that goes back into preventing homelessness or keeping people housed is “going to be important in terms of also directing people into the assistance they need” whether it be drug and alcohol rehabilitation, family support or financial counselling.

This will make a “huge difference to the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness” in the NT. It will be “extremely valuable for their physical and mental health”, he said.

McMillan told Croakey the funding will enable significant investment into programs and services that are most needed, including, for example, short-term accommodation for people leaving Country temporarily for medical treatment. Or for programs to provide safe transitional accommodation for women fleeing domestic and family violence.

It will be necessary, he said, to identify what programs are working well, and then how to get the best value for the people experiencing homelessness.

He said the funding provides a great opportunity for them to look at options to increase stable and safe accommodation, as well as implement programs “that make a difference to try and prevent homelessness rather than being totally reactionary”.

John Paterson, CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, said in a statement that the funds had the potential to be “gamechangers”.

“Housing and education are very important determinants of health and the previous lack of progress in these areas has held back health improvements for our people,” he said.

“But they must be administered effectively, transparently, and with formal Aboriginal oversight to ensure that they are effective.”

Read the Croakey Health Media article here.

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