Could laws help prevent homelessness?

By James Bennett

Could introducing laws that help prevent homelessness be the solution to this crisis? With Shepparton in the midst of a homelessness crisis, new ways to help prevent the problem, including affordable housing, are being touted.

Last week, Welsh academic Peter Mackie spoke in Melbourne about a system already implemented in Wales.

According to Dr Mackie, the law forced local governments to increase investment as a way to help prevent homelessness.

It included providing support in an effort to prevent evictions, better tenant-to-landlord mediation and relationships, rapid rehousing capacity and family mediation support.

Local governments must assist a person who has become homeless after receiving help, including providing a home if they are considered a priority.

According to Dr Mackie, since the law was passed in Wales in 2015 the demand for crisis accommodation and shelters has decreased by 18 per cent.

There are three stages in the law — duty to prevent homelessness, help to secure (housing) and duty to secure (housing). The Welsh model reportedly has a 70 per cent success rate.

The News asked local politicians for their thoughts on introducing such a law and if the Shepparton region could be used as a trial area.

Victorian Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said homelessness was one of the major issues facing our community.

``However I am not convinced the problem could be simply legislated away,'' she said.

‘‘One of the few places where homelessness has reduced in recent years is Finland with their Housing First principle.

‘‘I believe that communities finding more place-based solutions to problems is more likely to be effective than enacting legislation.

‘‘The Welsh model of placing a duty on government to attempt to prevent homelessness is worth examining if it can be proved to help alleviate a lack of social and public housing stock.

‘‘I would not be in favour of the underprivileged of Shepparton being used as guinea pigs; however, I would be in favour of demonstrably effective solutions being rolled out to our region on a trial basis,'' she said.

‘‘I am confident that the Royal Commission into Mental Health in Victoria will provide some clear guidance for those more extreme cases of homelessness where people are facing combined mental health and drug addiction issues.’’

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum said it was the first time he'd heard of legislating to prevent homelessness.

‘‘I’m unsure about the model of long-term unemployment. Is it only available for people who are unemployed?

‘‘It’s hard to imagine a government can bring in a law to prevent homelessness. ‘‘I would need to do further research on the operation in Wales.

‘‘We would have to see what is working in other First World countries that are already trialing it.

‘‘If there is a successful model, I would like to see Shepparton put its hand up to act as a trial.

‘‘The best designs (for public housing) come at a local level.

"The role of the Federal Government is to fund respective state projects or local projects,'' he said.

‘If they have a program that’s their design, then they ask the Federal Government for the funding and sometimes ideas.’’

City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe said investment in social housing was the key. 

‘‘If a law was to be passed as it was in Wales in 2015, governments would be forced to increase their investment to assist the current homelessness crisis we are experiencing — not only in Greater Shepparton but across the country,’’ she said.

‘‘The most effective strategy is to invest in prevention and social housing. We have an immediate need to assist the increasing numbers we face of homelessness.

‘‘The value of the Australian Government’s spending on social housing and homelessness services has fallen by $82 million in the last five years.

‘‘There is the need to increase, not reduce, its investment in social housing and homelessness and create real change,'' she said. 

‘‘I would be pleased if Greater Shepparton was supported with this initiative that did see government increase investment in homelessness.’’

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