House of Assembly: Thursday, March 23, 2023



Ms HOOD (Adelaide) (15:24): I rise to speak about homelessness, an issue significantly impacting my local community of Adelaide, and one that my government, our tirelessly working Minister for Human Services and I are incredibly passionate about addressing. Today, we received some really sobering statistics. ABS data show that on Census night in 2021, the number of South Australians experiencing homelessness was 7,428—a 19 per cent increase on the 6,224 people identified by the 2016 Census.

The national data, covering a period when the federal Liberal National government was in power, showed how the Coalition utterly failed to support social and affordable housing or homelessness services from 2013 to 2022 as the crisis worsened. In South Australia, the former Marshall Liberal government was no better, slashing funding, slashing staff, and I am talking 20 per cent over four years, which equates to around 200 people—200 skilled and experienced staff in the department dealing with incredibly complex cases.

As well as homes from public housing, they also made cuts to some of our most important homelessness services: Vinnies, Catherine House and Hutt St Centre, and in the lead-up to winter as well. While the data released today is now almost two years old, the then Labor opposition knew there was a problem and we got to work developing election policies during 2021, including an extra $177.5 million for public housing and an extra $6 million for Hutt St Centre, Vinnies and Catherine House, which had had their funding cruelly cut under the former Liberal government.

Our boost to public housing will mean we will have 1,144 more public housing properties in 2026, compared with the Liberals' plans, and we are also stopping the sale of 580 public housing properties. We will also see an upgrade of 350 vacant properties so they can be homes again for people in need. We have introduced rent reforms, which include changes to private rental bond arrangements and banning rent bidding so it is easier and more affordable to rent a home.

It is important to remember that behind this Census data are real people: grandparents, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, which is why I wanted to tell the story of Michael today. Michael went from homelessness to homefulness because of the incredible work of the Hutt St Centre and its Aspire program, which provides intensive case management to help clients stabilise and connect with their community.

With a low client-caseworker ratio, Aspire provides support in finding and maintaining accommodation and with many other life issues over a period of time for those experiencing chronic homelessness. Please note that Michael's name has been changed for privacy. This is Michael's story. Ten years ago, Michael had a successful career as a manager in the mining sector. He shared a home with his partner and had nearly paid off their mortgage. The future seemed bright until his company downsized and Michael was made redundant.

He sought similar work in the sector, firstly interstate and then overseas. The stress of being away from home began to erode his relationship and, soon after, Michael's partner asked him to leave. Following a long and costly legal battle, Michael lost the home and most of his assets. He stated:

Losing everything really destroyed my self-worth. I had always been a very driven person but, when you keep getting knocked down, even the little things seem impossible.

He returned to his home state of SA to be closer to his family, but his father was battling health issues after a series of strokes and Michael's brother had a young family to look after, so he did not want to impose on them. He stayed in friends' spare rooms, garages, on their couches, until he ran out of friends to call on.

When Michael first connected with his Aspire case manager, Jake, three years ago, he had been sleeping rough for five years and had all but given up on himself. Through persistence and over many months, Jake convinced Michael that support was available and a better future was possible. This is a quote from Michael:

I was staying under a jetty and didn't even have a phone, let alone a place to charge it, so I'd often be hard to reach—but Jake never gave up. Having someone who believes in you is so important. It's hard not to give up when you are rough sleeping, and lots of people do give up without that support.

I've got a roof over my head again. I can lock my front door—be safe and secure. I can get away from the cold and rain. I can relax again. I finally have the space to get back on my own two feet.

Jake and the team have helped me through the toughest years of my life. Even when I was ready to give up on myself, they never did. Their support helped me believe in myself again. It makes me very emotional, but now I really feel like things will be okay.