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Plea for ‘visitor’ housing to deal with rising homeless in Katherine

Plea for ‘visitor’ housing to deal with rising homeless in Katherine

Katherine Times

Journalist: Chris McLennan

Katherine and “outback” NT has retained the unwanted title of having the worst homelessness rate in Australia.

The community has 31 times the national rate of homelessness.

The lack of investment into new housing is at the root of the problem in Katherine, local needs workers agree.

And, according to a national report released today, the situation is growing worse.

To give the problem some sort of context, one in 26 people in the Northern Territory received homelessness assistance in the past year – the national rate is 1 in 86.

The AIHW Specialist Homelessness Services annual report again shows most people needing help across the NT were Indigenous, most were women – and even more alarmingly, one in six were under the age of 10.

In the Territory, the top 3 reasons for people looking for help were:

  • family and domestic violence (46%, compared with 38% nationally)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (26%, compared with 25%)
  • financial difficulties (23%, compared with 41%).

On average, 15 requests for assistance went unmet each day.

More and more people are seeking support from specialist homelessness services in the NT, while fewer people over the past year have been supported into housing, says affordable housing and homelessness peak body NT Shelter.

NT Shelter executive officer Peter McMillan said he was dismayed to see a further 3.4% increase in the number of Territorians seeking support, compared to a 0.4% rise elsewhere.

The number of people unable to be assisted rose from 45.3% to 48.7% for the same period.

Increased demand in the NT accounted for 21% of the total national rise in numbers of people seeking assistance, further highlighting the disproportionate and growing burden of homelessness in the Territory compared to the rest of Australia.

“We have now seen a 17% rise in demand over the past 3 years for essential services that support homeless people, or those at risk of homelessness, one in every two of whom are experiencing domestic and family violence. We are unable to help almost half of the people in need because we don’t have enough housing and we don’t have enough specialist support,” Mr McMillan said.

He said the AIHW report reveals more people in the Territory that presented for services were already homeless compared to the previous year (36% compared to 32%).

Of real concern, the number of Territorians assisted into housing declined from 34% in 2017-18 to 25% in 2018-19, he said.

Mr McMillan said the latest figures were a stark reflection of the chronic underfunding for NT housing and homelessness services and clearly demonstrated that more needed to be urgently done to support those whose housing situation is unstable.

The NT Government has committed in its recently released housing strategy to advocate for funding aligned to the high levels and complex nature of needs in the Territory.

“Aboriginal persons are already well and truly over-represented in the homelessness system and yet the proportion continues to rise even further, not decline. We are also alarmed at the huge rise in the proportion of young people in need of assistance. This is bucking the national trend where we’re seeing a slight decline. More needs to be done to ensure that young people get the help they need with housing and other supports”, said Mr McMillan.

NT Shelter’s Pre-Budget submission, released today, it says the NT Government’s commitments to establish Better Pathways Centres and short-stay visitor accommodation facilities in Darwin, the northern suburbs of Darwin, and Palmerston will will make a significant difference to the lives of many vulnerable Territorians.

“However, despite this investment, extensive gaps remain in housing infrastructure and government funded services across the Territory,” the submission states.

“Of considerable concern is the absence of any Government commitment to providing equivalent visitor accommodation infrastructure for Katherine.

“The KPMG report on Rough Sleepers included consideration of the rough sleeper needs in Katherine.

“Upon implementation of the Barkly Regional Deal, Katherine will be the only major regional centre without any visitor accommodation.

“The people of the Big Rivers region are no less deserving of a safe place to stay when coming to Katherine for family, medical, cultural, educational, sporting or other reasons.

“There are strong and growing calls from across the community for visitor accommodation infrastructure comparable to that already in place or earmarked for the other major urban centres. It is time for leadership on the part of the NT Government to rectify this anomaly by committing to visitor accommodation infrastructure for the Katherine region on a no less favourable basis than the communities of Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Darwin and Palmerston.”

The submission asks Government to commit funding for short-term visitor accommodation for Katherine costing an estimated $5 million with recurrent operational funding of $2 million per annum.

The original article can be viewed here.

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